Thursday, July 21, 2005

Abortion Rights and Judge Roberts

Everyone knows that abortion is going to be a major area of contention during John Roberts' confirmation hearings. The question people who care about the issue are asking is, What are Roberts' views on Roe v. Wade and how would those views affect his rulings if he is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice?

Anyone who's known me for more than, oh say five minutes, knows my views on abortion, but for the record, I'll state them: Uteruses belong to the women they are inside of, and any decision about what will enter a uterus or reside in a uterus for any length of time also belongs to the woman who owns that uterus.

Now that I've made that clear, let's look at what Roberts thinks.

Roberts said at his confirmation for the D.C. circuit court position he now holds that he views Roe v. Wade as being "settled law." He adds, "There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." Skeptics point out, though, that when he was deputy solicitor general in George H.W. Bush's administration, he signed on to a brief opposing Roe v. Wade: "The court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion ... finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution," the brief said.

Roberts' answer to having signed the brief is that he did so on behalf of a client and that he was only acting on behalf of the client's interests and not necessarily expressing his own personal views. But, as Roberts himself notes, the client was the U.S. government; and the president at the time was George H.W. Bush. Roberts was a high-ranking official in an administration that opposed legal abortion and wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade. So his defense on that point is disingenuous. He would not have been arguing that case before the Supreme Court as the attorney for the U.S. government if he supported the principle that abortion should be legal and women should have the right to choose between continuing or ending a pregnancy.

Roberts' assurances during his confirmation hearings for the appeals court position that he viewed Roe as settled law and had no personal views that would interfere with his respect for legal precedent are called into question by -- of all people -- Alberto Gonzales.

In an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" Gonzales said that respect for precedent is more important for an appeals court judge than a member of the Supreme Court.

"When you're a circuit court judge like Judge Roberts is today, you must respect and adhere to precedent of the Supreme Court. Once you become a Supreme Court justice, that is not necessarily so," Gonzales said.

And although Roberts has never publicly stated his personal views on abortion, Knight-Ridder's Shannon McCafferty writes that "[t]here are a number of clues suggesting that Roberts ... personally opposes abortion."
For one thing, he is a very observant Roman Catholic; and the pastor of the church he attends, Peter Vaghi, is strongly and very vocally against abortion. This last point is significant because Vaghi married Roberts and his wife; and Roberts and his wife followed Vaghi when he was transferred to a new church in Maryland.

Also, Roberts' wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, also an attorney, does pro bono work for Feminists for Life, which (obviously) is an anti-abortion advocacy group.

It's one thing to have personal views against having an abortion, but when you actively work (paid or unpaid) for an organization that opposes legal abortion and is trying to make abortion illegal -- that is an extra level of commitment; and it's highly unlikely that, having such strong views on such a hotly felt issue, you would commit yourself in partnership and love to a person who did not share your views.

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