Supreme Court Hearing Raises Few Questions about Abortion Rights and Offers Fewer Answers

Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights called for more probing and clarification on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayor’s views on abortion rights. In yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings, Senators devoted approximately 30 minutes to the issue of property rights and 40 minutes to the issue of gun rights.  But fewer than ten minutes covered the pressing issue of privacy rights, and that scant time left viewers more in the dark than before about Judge Sotomayor’s position on women’s fundamental right to abortion.

Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated, “Judge Sotomayor largely stuck to the script that we have come to expect from recent Supreme Court nominees.  She confirmed that Roe v. Wade is Supreme Court precedent and subject to deference as stare decisis, but said little about her own understanding of the issues underlying Roe and the Court’s subsequent decisions on abortion rights.

During the hearing, Senator Feinstein asked Judge Sotomayor about the Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, also referred to as Carhart II, where for the first time the Court upheld abortion restrictions that made no exception for the health of the mother.  Judge Sotomayor explained that while the health and welfare of a woman must continue to be compelling considerations, Carhart II had not asked the Court to reconsider this precedent.

“In fact, the Dissent, including Justice Souter whom Judge Sotomayor would replace, has said that the majority’s opinion in Carhart II, was ‘alarming’ and chided their colleagues for ‘dishonoring the Court’s precedent,’” Northup stated.  “We hope that Judge Sotomayor will have the opportunity to clarify her views about women’s fundamental right to abortion and the importance of women’s health. After all, the promise of Roe is increasingly in jeopardy as a legal protection and an everyday reality. Over the past three decades, the combined effect of a severe shortage of abortion providers, onerous state abortion restrictions, and lack of funding have made abortion virtually unavailable for many women. And Carhart II has only served to dilute the protections for a woman’s right to choose.  

“We applaud Senator Feinstein for asking a substantive question about the nominee’s views on abortion,” Northup stated.  “For more than a generation, the Senate has been part of a conspiracy of silence on judicial nominees’ views on abortion rights.  Senators have either avoided the topic, or refused to press hard for honest answers on where judicial nominees stand on this crucial issue.

“We hope that Senator Feinstein and her colleagues will continue to ask these probing questions of Judge Sotomayor.  It is the Committee’s responsibility to understand a nominee’s judicial philosophy, including her views on Roe v. Wade, and it is the nominee’s responsibility to educate the Senate and the public about where they stand on this critical issue.”

Nancy Northup is available to do interviews and can provide detailed information on the background of Sonia Sotomayor.  To schedule an interview, please call Ximena Ramirez at (917) 637-3633.