The Evaluation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett

Amy Coney Barrett in 2018 (Photo by Rachel Malehorn / CC BY 3.0)

Congress is in the process of evaluating the suitability of Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. In reality her potential appointment is a very realistic threat to the hard-won legal right of women to terminate unwanted or unsafe pregnancies.

I am no lawyer, but it seems to me that people with strong personal beliefs rooted in their religion should not decide an issue that affect the entire population of the United States. Though it is the role of females to bear the young, the well-being of our children is the responsibility of both sexes.

I know that having an abortion is a serious, emotional undertaking, but children that are not wanted, or cannot be cared for, or women who perish from or are harmed by unsafe abortion, are a much greater peril. Let me once more state the obvious: the decision to have an abortion in the United States is voluntary.

Abortions or attempts at abortions were probably common among prehistoric people. They are discussed in a Chinese medical text written 4,600 years ago, and in the Ebers Papyrus written in 1550 BCE. Home remedies, often consisting of physical intervention, like the use of shoe-hooks, coat hangers or knitting needles, or the use of poisons like turpentine, were more common in recent times.

Margaret Sanger, a nurse who could no longer stand to take care of poor women who died of self-inflicted abortions, initiated the fight for birth control in the United States about a century ago. At the time, Anthony Comstock, a US postal inspector bent on upholding Victorian morality, managed to prevent Sanger from mailing pamphlet discussing birth control.

Sanger was convinced that unwanted pregnancies exacerbated the challenges already faced by economically struggling families, and she advocated for planned parenthood. She organized clinics and ended up in prison. She was a persuasive writer and once, tongue-in-cheek, imagined that the unborn could evaluate their future parents, as employers interview potential chambermaids, chauffeurs or gardeners. In her article she fantasized a scene of children asking their future fathers about their health and income; their mothers about their nerves, their knowledge about childcare, and their cooking skills; and both of them about their plans of bringing them up. Most insistently the child wanted to know how many children they had already.

“Eight.”
“How much are you earning?
“Ten dollars a week.”
“And living in two rooms, you say? No thank you. Next please.”

The children would certainly have expressed disapproval at being schlepped MASK-LESS to a party at the White House in support of their mother’s application to be elected to the Supreme Court, all that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting back to Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court: The subject of a woman’s right to abortion has been thrashed out repeatedly. The landmark decision of Roe v. Wade should not be tampered with. The selection of a judge determined to overturn it should not be rushed through Congress. Modern times have changed the birth process. Doctors fertilize eggs in Petri dishes and sometimes implant these embryos in surrogate mothers, perform in-utero fetal surgery and carry out all kinds of unprecedented procedures that often resulted in miraculous babies and overjoyed parents. Given this monkeying with nature, terminating a pregnancy for whatever reason—and it rarely is an impulsive decision—is a minor issue.

On the flip-side, we can no longer leave the birth of children to the whims of nature. In large part the many problems of the earth—hunger, poverty, climate change—are caused by humanity’s joyful population growth and its ability to exploit the fruits of the earth. Having children today takes careful planning. As Margaret Sanger imagined in her child-interviewer scene, it takes love, emotional strength, a safe home, and confidence in the future. Nobody should be forced to be a parent, and women who regret being pregnant, for whatever reason, should be able to undo it.

Judge Barrett may truly believe that life starts at conception and she is entitled to her beliefs. Until 1867 the Catholic Church itself equated the beginning of life with quickening, the time at which a mother feels the child moving. But I am also wondering whether I can trust Amy Coney Barrett’s judgment and backbone—both crucial qualities for any person serving on the Supreme Court. At her nomination party she not only exposed herself and her children to infection by COVID-19, but kowtowed to the President of United States, whose actions she is to evaluate on the Court, and openly defied the recommendations of this country’s health authorities in fighting this scourge.

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1 Response to The Evaluation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett

  1. Joseph Ahern says:

    Thought-provoking, with compelling historical references, and as always, a good read from a great writer. This is a gripping exploration of an essential issue that must be balanced and neutral in a Supreme Court candidate.

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