WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans will vote this week to confirm a lifetime federal judge who claimed that fertility treatments and surrogacy have “grave effects on society, including diminished respect for motherhood and the unique mother-child bond; exploitation of women; commodification of gestation and of children themselves; and weakening of appropriate social mores against eugenic abortion.”
Sarah Pitlyk, President Donald Trump’s nominee to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, argued those points in a 2017 amicus brief opposing a California statute that protects the right to assisted reproductive technology like in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and gestational surrogacy.
Pitlyk, who is special counsel to the Thomas More Society, a conservative, anti-abortion law firm based in Chicago, went on to say in a 2017 interview with the National Catholic Register that “surrogacy is harmful to mothers and children, so it’s a practice society should not be enforcing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has teed up Pitlyk’s confirmation vote for Wednesday or Thursday.
Nearly 1 in 6 U.S. couples face infertility, according to a 2014 National Institutes of Health study. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is among them. She wrote to all 99 of her Senate colleagues last month urging them to oppose Pitlyk over her “deeply insulting” views on fertility treatment.
“As a mother who struggled with infertility for years and required IVF to start my family, I would be one of the many Americans who could never enter Ms. Pitlyk’s courtroom with any reasonable expectation that my case would be adjudicated in a fair and impartial manner,” said Duckworth.
“I could not trust that Ms. Pitlyk’s opinions were based on facts and circumstances, rather than reflecting her personal beliefs,” the senator continued. “Not after Ms. Pitlyk cruelly implied in an amicus brief she proudly submitted to the Supreme Court that children conceived with the help of [assisted reproductive technology] are inferior. Not after Ms. Pitlyk accused families who opt for surrogacy of contributing to ‘grave effects on society,’ including disrespecting motherhood.”
“A lifetime appointment to the Federal Bench is a privilege, not a right. Ms. Pitlyk’s own words should disqualify her from securing such an honor,” added Duckworth. “Please join me in opposing Sarah Pitlyk’s confirmation.”
Here’s a copy of Duckworth’s letter, obtained by HuffPost:
Pitlyk, 42, fits the mold of many of Trump’s judicial nominees: She’s young, white and a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ organization that has served as a pipeline for judges for this White House. Federalist Society-backed nominees also tend to have records of opposing abortion, LGBTQ rights and voting rights.
In private practice and as special counsel at Thomas More Society, Pitlyk established a clear record of attacking reproductive rights. She defended anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, who broke federal and state laws by secretly recording and deceptively editing videos that falsely claimed to expose Planned Parenthood’s illegal sale of fetal tissue. She defended Iowa’s six-week abortion ban that was later struck down as unconstitutional. In another case, Pitlyk argued that it is “scientific fact” that “human life begins at the moment when a human sperm fertilizes a human egg.” (It is not scientific fact.)
After losing that case, Pitlyk lamented that “the trial court’s judgment treated the embryonic children as inanimate objects, not human beings with the same interests as other unborn children.”
As a mother who struggled with infertility for years and required IVF to start my family, I would be one of the many Americans who could never enter Ms. Pitlyk’s courtroom with any reasonable expectation that my case would be adjudicated in a fair and impartial manner.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth
So far, Maine Sen. Susan Collins is the only Republican who plans to oppose Pitlyk’s confirmation, meaning Pitlyk has the votes to be confirmed. In a statement, Collins cited Pitlyk’s “troubling assertions” about fertility treatments.
“My concern is not based on Ms. Pitlyk’s personal views on abortion or various medical decisions, which she has every right to hold,” she said. “I do question, however, given her pattern of strident advocacy, whether she could put aside her personal views on these matters.”
Collins also raised concerns with Pitlyk earning a rare and embarrassing “not qualified” rating by the American Bar Association based on her lack of experience. The rating was unanimously decided.
“For example, she testified that she has never tried a case or argued a motion in person in state or federal court,” said the senator. “While courtroom experience is not the only factor I consider when evaluating district court nominations, her lack of trial experience would make it difficult for her to transition to a district court judgeship.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the only other GOP senator who supports abortion rights, did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Pitlyk previously clerked for Brett Kavanaugh, also a Federalist Society member, when he was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. When Kavanaugh was credibly accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Pitlyk came to his defense, writing in a Fox News opinion piece that his critics were “trying to tarnish the character of a man we and so many other people admire and respect” on the basis of “a single, unsubstantiated, anonymous allegation about an alleged incident in high school – some 35 years ago.”
Pitlyk also publicly dismissed Ford’s story, saying in a CNN interview that it was “hard to take it seriously … in light of the transparently, politically motivated manner in which it has come to light,” and that “it defies credibility to believe that it is just a coincidence.”
More than 200 national civil and human rights groups signed on to a letter opposing Pitlyk, calling her “an ideological extremist who has dedicated much of her legal career to attempting to restrict reproductive freedom and access to women’s health care.”
“Ms. Pitlyk has a clear ideological bias that would render her incapable of serving as a fair and neutral arbiter,” reads the September letter from the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, sent to all senators. “The Senate must reject her nomination to a lifetime position in the federal judiciary.”
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