Where does Neil Gorsuch Stand on key Public Health Issues?

President Trump announced Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee in late January 2017.  Judge Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appellate judge based in Colorado, currently sits on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  His legal career reflects a rapid ascent to the upper echelons of the American judicial system.  After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, Judge Gorsuch clerked for the Supreme Court, worked at a high-profile Washington law firm, and served as a Principal Assistant to the Deputy Attorney General in the Department of Justice.  Then, in 2006,  President George W. Bush appointed him to the Tenth Circuit.

Since his nomination, public health advocates have been anxious to understand where he stands on key public health issues.  Judge Gorsuch has a reputation for being an originalist, and many hail Judge Gorsuch as the “most natural successor to [the late] Justice Antonin Scalia.”  In his eleven years on the 10th circuit, Judge Gorsuch has stuck to conservative values and support of religious freedom.  But he also has a history of pushing back on federal agencies and regulations—including the centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

So where does Judge Gorsuch stand on key healthcare issues?  First, he’s against assisted suicide.  In fact, Judge Gorsuch authored a book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, which argued against the practice.  In The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, Judge Gorsuch railed against assisted suicide, with the argument that all human life is fundamentally valuable and that it’s always wrong to intentionally kill.  Unsurprisingly, organizations that support assisted suicide publicly opposed Judge Gorsuch’s nomination.

Second, he’s against the ACA Contraceptive Mandate.  In two separate 2013 cases, Judge Gorsuch sided with the corporations’ right to exemption of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate on religious grounds.  See Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114 (10th Cir. 2013); Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, No. 13-1540 (10th Cir. July 14, 3015).  According to Judge Gorsuch, “[t]he ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong.”

Third, Judge Gorsuch supported defunding Planned Parenthood in Utah.  In October 2016, the 10th Circuit sided with Planned Parenthood holding that Utah Governor Gary Herbert had likely pulled $270,000 in grants from Planned Parenthood in retaliation for the group’s abortion advocacy.  Judge Gorsuch dissented, however, arguing that Governor Herbert had lawfully defunded Planned Parenthood because he believed the group was involved in fetal tissue trafficking.

Finally, Judge Gorsuch’s stance on abortion is unclear, however, his opinions on contraception and assisted suicide signal that he opposes it.  Gorsuch’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Utah’s Planned Parenthood further support this assumption.  Thus, his nomination is concerning for abortion rights advocates.

Congress has yet to confirm Judge Gorsuch, but whoever becomes the ninth Supreme Court Justice will undoubtedly affect public health law and policy.  Advocates on both sides are holding their breath to see what happens next.  At the moment, all eyes are on Judge Gorsuch.

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