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Neil Gorsuch's light record on abortion still has pro-choice groups worried

President Trump Announces His Supreme Court Nominee Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail that he would pick a “pro-life” Supreme Court justice.

Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee on Tuesday night. Gorsuch is, without a doubt, a respected conservative jurist. But when it comes to abortion rights, specifically, Gorsuch’s record is minimal. He’s never ruled on a case hinging on the constitutionality of abortion restriction. So the best way to look at his views is to look at how he’s thought about birth control and about assisted suicide. Together, it appears he is more likely pro-life than pro-choice.

Gorsuch wrote a book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, which argued against the legalization of assisted suicide because human life is “intrinsically valuable.” Arguing against assisted suicide is not the same as arguing against abortion access, but the language he uses is similar to that used by anti-abortion activists.

Gorsuch has said things that would raise pro-choice alarm bells about the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, and how broad the religious exemptions to that benefit should be in infamous cases like Hobby Lobby.

In 2013 while serving on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch joined the majority that ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, before that case made its way up to the Supreme Court. That ruling, like the Supreme Court’s, found that closely-held, for-profit corporations — not just religious institutions or nonprofits — should also be allowed to seek a religious exemption to the birth control benefit.

But Gorsuch also wrote a concurring opinion that would have gone even farther than the 10th Circuit’s ruling, by allowing individual owners as well as corporations to challenge the mandate.

In that opinion, Gorsuch also claimed that the birth control coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act forces employers to “underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg.” That argument, which is unsupported by medical research, is often made by anti-abortion rights advocates to explain why they oppose birth control methods like IUDs and emergency contraception.

Together, these writings suggest he’ll be the conservative justice Trump promises. But as perennial swing justice Anthony Kennedy has taught us, opposing abortion personally doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll vote to curtail legal abortion rights. Plus, he replaces Antonin Scalia, a fellow conservative, so Gorsuch doesn’t change the balance of the court.

Pro-choice groups are already suspicious

“Gorsuch represents an existential threat to legal abortion in the United States and must never wear the robes of a Supreme Court justice,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement Tuesday.

Hogue added that Trump’s decision to “speed up” the announcement should not “distract from the hundreds of thousands of Americans demonstrating” against his anti-immigration executive order.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, called Judge Gorsuch “a far-right jurist who would overturn basic and well-established principles of American law.”

“By nominating a judge who has sided with employers arguing they should be exempt from covering birth control because of their religious beliefs, Trump is pandering to extremists who would limit women’s opportunities, damage their health and trample their rights,” said Erin Matson, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Clarke Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life (which describes itself as “the legal arm of the pro-life movement”) said Gorsuch’s nomination shows that Trump “values the legacy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and is dedicated to ensuring that the Supreme Court is staffed by jurists who respect the Constitution, not by politicians who vote with their policy preferences.”

Watch: President Trump's pick for the next Supreme Court justice