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Amy Coney Barrett Avoids Giving Position On Abortion Rights

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett

Judge Amy Coney Barrett avoided answering questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., about her view of the landmark case Roe v. Wade and constitutional protection of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion.

Feinstein asked Barrett about her opinions on abortion rights three times, and each time Barrett declined to give a legal assessment of the case. The first time, Feinstein asked if Barrett agreed with former Justice Antonin Scalia when he wrote in 1992 that Roe was wrongly decided.

Barrett said she wants to be forthright and answer every question as best she can and invoked an explanation Justice Elena Kagan, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010, gave in her confirmation process.

"She said that she was not going to grade precedent or give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down," Barrett said. "I think in an area where precedent continues to be pressed and litigated, as is true of case, it would be particularly — it would actually be wrong and a violation of the canon for me to do that as a sitting judge. If I express a view on a precedent one way or another, whether I say I love it or I hate it, it signals to litigants that I might tilt one way or another in a pending case."

Feinstein recounted her memory of being a college student in the 1950s and seeing women travel to Mexico to obtain an abortion or trying to harm themselves to end a pregnancy. Feinstein said it is distressing for women not to have a clear answer on how Barrett would approach the question.

"I completely understand why you are asking the question but again, I can't pre-commit or say, 'Yes I'm going in with some agenda,' " Barrett said. "Because I'm not."

Feinstein asked a third time, framing the question around Barrett's personal beliefs about Roe v. Wade. Barrett again declined to respond.

"I think my answer is the same because that's a case that is litigated and its contours could come up again, And in fact they do come up. They came up last term before the court," Barrett said. "I know why it would be comforting to you to have an answer but I can't express views on cases or pre-commit to approaching a case in any particular way."

Some supporters of abortion rights believe that Barrett's inclusion on the Supreme Court would help erode abortion rights. She said she has no such agenda.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.