As lawmakers began in-depth questioning of Judge Samuel Alito about his views on abortion, pro-choice groups said the Supreme Court nominee's comments underscored their deep concerns about Alito's commitment to protecting a woman's right to choose, while anti-abortion groups said they were reassured by his testimony.
For both sides, President Bush's choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court stuck to positions he has adopted in the past, including a defense of his losing dissent in a 1991 case striking down a Pennsylvania law requiring women to obtain consent from their husbands before undergoing an abortion.
“There were no surprises,” said Karen Pearl, the interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who said Alito showed “consistent evasiveness” on matters concerning his position on Roe.
‘A huge departure’
“When Judge Alito talks about there being compelling state interests, he is basically saying that women’s health can be balanced against other interests,” Pearl said. "That’s a huge departure from previous Supreme Court rulings and only increases our worry — and increases our opposition.”
“It was an exercise in futility in some areas,” said Olga Vives, executive vice president for the National Organization for Women. Vives took exception with Alito's exchange with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., about Alito's 1985 memo stating that “the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion.”
“Judge Alito was evasive, he did not answer the question, and we think this is really a big problem for the country,” Vives said. “He needs to answer that question.”
Abortion opponents had a much more upbeat view of the nominee's first day answering questions.
‘A banner day’
“It’s a banner day for pro-lifers,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a Kansas-based group that opposes abortion. “Overwhelmingly the feeling is one of excitement and exhilaration. It energizes the pro-life community.”
For Newman, the nominee’s personal faith is a likely guide to his future rulings. “He is a committed Catholic, he comes from a strong Christian background,” Newman said. “These are all good personal views, so when it comes to deciding matters of law, not only will he look at facts openly, but he will also draw upon his faith to help him make decisions.”
“I really think he’s doing better than I expected,” said Joe Scheidler, national director of the Pro-Life Action League, based in Chicago.
“He’s gone into considerable detail and he's clearing up misconceptions. He’s doing almost as well as (recently confirmed Chief Justice John) Roberts; he has a firm grasp on everything they’re bringing up,” Scheidler said.
Despite their disappointed reaction to the first day's questioning, those hoping that the Senate blocks Alito's nomination aren't giving up hope that the judge will tip his hand on his judicial philosophy at it pertains to abortion.
“We’ll see what tomorrow brings,” said Vives of NOW. “But as predicted he’s been evasive, elusive — and consistent as far as his record is concerned.”
Vives expressed hope that “he’s quizzed more intensely” about a range of issues on Wednesday, including abortion generally and his 1985 statement in particular. “We'll be watching,” she said.