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Amy Coney Barrett Doesn't Identify Her Stance On Abortion Rights At Senate Hearing

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Abortion was a major focus on the second day of Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearings held before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The issue is always a point of contention in these hearings, but the stakes are especially high this time around. Observers say the Supreme Court could be closer than ever to overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon covers this issue. She joins us now.

Sarah, did we learn anything more about Judge Barrett's views on this issue?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: I mean, not a whole lot. She hewed pretty closely to really what most nominees in her position have done and kept her answers very limited. Barrett was asked repeatedly by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein how her views on abortion compared to those of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was a reliable conservative vote.

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DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Do you agree with Justice Scalia's view that Roe was wrongly decided?

AMY CONEY BARRETT: Senator, 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, because I'm not.

MCCAMMON: And both of President Trump's previous nominees, Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, also declined to say during their hearings how they would rule on Roe. This is pretty common practice. Justice Scalia himself, back in 1986, said he had no agenda on the issue. And those are words that Barrett echoed today.

CORNISH: People might also be seeing this word super-precedent. What does that mean? And why is it important in this discussion?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, asked Barrett about some of her past legal writings in which she suggested that some cases, like Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated public schools, are what's known as super-precedent. Klobuchar asked if Roe is super-precedent that couldn't be overturned or shouldn't be.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CONEY BARRETT: OK. Well, people use super-precedent differently.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: OK.

CONEY BARRETT: The way that it's used in the scholarship and the way that I was using it in the article that you're reading from was to define cases that are so well-settled that no political actors and no people seriously push for their overruling. And I'm answering a lot of questions about Roe, which I think indicates that Roe doesn't fall in that category.

MCCAMMON: Now, Barrett said that doesn't necessarily mean that Roe should be overturned, but she said that - she suggested that it could be.

CORNISH: Another aspect of her record on this issue that's come to light is an ad that Barrett and her husband signed in 2006 for a group opposed to abortion rights. That also extended to some types of infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization. When she was asked about that today, how did she respond?

MCCAMMON: Right. Barrett said she signed off on the ad coming out of church one day many years ago. It was in support of the Catholic Church's position on abortion, she said, and it was sponsored by an anti-abortion rights group in Indiana. The leaders of that group have said they believe anything that intentionally destroys an embryo, including fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization, should be a crime. Barrett declined to describe her views on IVF and said she had not signed off on that idea by signing the statement in support of that group. But she reiterated that she would rule in accordance with the law, as she said before, and that her personal views wouldn't dictate her decisions. But, Audie, this is an issue of concern for reproductive rights advocates, who point to efforts by anti-abortion rights groups to promote the idea that an embryo should have legal rights, which would have a lot of implications.

CORNISH: It sounds like Democrats were trying to elicit some answers from Barrett about abortion and reproductive rights. Did that happen?

MCCAMMON: Not necessarily - she was very careful with her answers. But we do know that with two of President Trump's nominees already on the court, observers have been predicting that Roe v. Wade would be eroded. It's hard to predict how a justice will rule once confirmed, but nothing we heard from Barrett today seems to be reassuring abortion rights advocates who think she could be the deciding vote on Roe.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.