Sen. Patrick Leahy's attempt to defend Roe v. Wade won applause from pro-life activists on Wednesday, who said the anecdote he shared highlighted how safety laws would protect patients.
Sen. Leahy (D., Vt.) recounted his experience prosecuting a Nazi-trained doctor who crossed the Canadian border to perform illegal abortions in Vermont to the Judiciary Committee during the third day of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearing. Leahy called the incident representative of the "dark days" before the Supreme Court struck down state laws against abortion in the landmark case.
"She was trained to do these abortions working for the SS at Auschwitz so she could abort the women prisoners that they had impregnated so that they could keep on using the women that way before they put them in the gas chambers," Leahy said.
Pro-life groups welcomed the remarks, saying Leahy had inadvertently highlighted the reason lawmakers have sought to increase safety regulations and health inspections at facilities that provide abortions.
Numerous states have adopted stricter measures in the wake of the 2013 arrest of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was later convicted of murder for severing the spinal cords of numerous babies born alive. Jeanne Mancini, president of the annual March for Life pointed to Leahy's statements as an affirmation of why abortion clinics "not continue to be given a pass" when it comes to safety standards.
"As his account details, the practice of abortion has a long and violent history of exploiting women, and continues to do so for profit under the legal protection of Roe v. Wade," Mancini said in a statement. "Horrific cases like the one described by Sen. Leahy reminds us of the need for the deep and unwavering desire to protect all human life that Judge Neil Gorsuch will undoubtedly bring to the Supreme Court bench."
Maureen Ferguson, a senior advisor at The Catholic Association, said the industry has not made the progress that Leahy claims.
"We share Senator Leahy’s stated concern about shady and dangerous abortionists preying upon women in crisis, but he should open his eyes to the prevalence of such incompetent and unethical doctors today under Roe’s regime of legal abortion," Ferguson said in a statement. "Today’s legal abortion industry is notoriously unregulated, health and safety violations are commonplace, and it attracts a disproportionate number of seedy doctors who take advantage of vulnerable women."
Leahy received a 100 percent rating from NARAL, one of the largest lobbying groups for abortion in the country. He received $13,670 from pro-abortion groups in 2016, the eighth-largest haul in the Senate, and another $13,700 in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director at the Judicial Crisis Network, which is spending $10 million to campaign for Gorsuch's confirmation hearing, said Leahy did his allies in the abortion industry little favor in associating them with Nazism.
"Senator Leahy inadvertently made a key Pro-Life point by discussing his prosecution of an abortionist trained by Nazis at Auschwitz. Perhaps he needs to think more deeply about the significance of what he just entered into the congressional record," she said in a statement.
Gorsuch is attempting to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death in February 2016. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to obstruct the confirmation process and has left the filibuster option on the table in retaliation for Republicans' refusal to confirm Obama nominee Merrick Garland to the High Court.