Barrett was member of anti-abortion group that promoted clinic criticized for misleading women

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington

Amy Coney Barrett, the supreme court nominee, was a member of a “right to life” organization in 2016 that promoted a local South Bend, Indiana, crisis pregnancy center, a clinic that has been criticised for misleading vulnerable women who were seeking abortions and pressuring them to keep their pregnancies.

Barrett, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate judiciary committee is set to begin on Monday, was a member of the University Faculty for Life at Notre Dame from 2010 to 2016. Online records show that the group began promoting South Bend’s Women’s Care Center in 2016 on its website, adding a link to the group under a section called “Pro-Life Links”.

The revelation adds to a growing body of evidence that Barrett, who has served as an appellate court judge since 2017, has advocated against abortion, abortion rights, and publicly supported the reversal of Roe v Wade in the years before she joined the federal bench. The Guardian has reported that she signed a letter in a newspaper in 2006 that called for the landmark abortion law to be reversed and called the legacy of Roe “barbaric”.

The Women’s Care Center (WCC) in South Bend has, according to local activists and local media reports, been at the centre of the city’s contentious fights over women’s reproductive rights for years.

Like other CPC’s, an online advertisement and link to the WCC is listed online when a user searches on Google under the term “abortion” and “South Bend”. A link to the only clinic that does provide abortions to women in South Bend, called Whole Woman’s Health Alliance (WWHA), appears under the ad for the WCC.

The WCC’s website appears to offer women abortion services at first glance, as well as free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. If a user clicks on the “abortion” tab, the clinic states on its website: “If you’re considering abortion, we offer free, confidential services to help you find out the facts and make a plan that is best for you.”

It also offers to give women information so that they can “understand the procedure”, using either the abortion pill RU486 or surgical abortion.

In fact, the clinic does not offer abortion services and is clearly supported by conservative faith and pro-life student groups in South Bend and at Notre Dame university.

In a letter to then-mayor Pete Buttigieg, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019, the WWHA abortion clinic spoke out against an attempt by WCC – the crisis pregnancy center – to open up another clinic next door to the abortion clinic. The mayor’s office ultimately vetoed the plan. At the time, Buttigieg wrote in a letter of his decision that he did believe it would benefit the city “to place next door to each other two organizations with deep and opposite commitments on the most divisive social issue of our time”.

Sharon Lau, midwest advocacy director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said in a statement: “At Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, we have heard story after story from patients from multiple states who came to us after accidentally going to WCC where they were shamed, manipulated and lied to by WCC staff in order to impose their own anti-abortion agenda. Pregnant people deserve to access birth control, abortion and other reproductive services without shame or judgement.”

Barrett’s membership in the University Faculty for Life, which was disclosed on her Senate questionnaire, is the most direct link the judge has to the WCC crisis pregnancy center. But Barrett has been involved in a number of other university and faith-based organizations with ties to WCC.

A promotional video on YouTube by the Notre Dame student Right to Life group shows a brief snippet of Barrett speaking with the students in 2013, in what was described as a meeting to “build knowledge on every aspect of the life issue”. In the same video students say volunteering at the WCC represents an important way to show that the group cares “not only about the unborn child but about the woman involved in the pregnancy”.

“The Women’s Care Center really provides this opportunity for us to show that love and support,” the video states. It also shows the students writing letters of congratulations to women who are in crisis pregnancies, as a way to show their support.

The WCC has also counted members of Barrett’s Charismatic Christian faith group, the People of Praise, on its board and as volunteers, as well as leaders in the Catholic church she attends.

The White House declined to comment.

Crisis pregnancy centers such as WCC scored an important legal victory in the supreme court in 2018, when the court’s conservative majority, joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, ruled that crisis pregnancy centers were not obliged to tell women when state aid might be available to obtain an abortion.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat Barrett is poised to fill, opposed the decision.