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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/28/09

Is Sotomayor a threat to Roe v. Wade? Don't ask the NY Times.

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An article in Thursday's New York Times reveals that some pro-choice groups are concerned that "Judge Sotomayor may not be a reliable vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision." The article quotes NARAL president Nancy Keenan as calling for the Senate to press the issue during the confirmation hearings:
"Discussion about Roe v. Wade will -- and must -- be part of this nomination process. As you know, choice hangs in the balance on the Supreme Court as the last two major choice-related cases were decided by a 5-to-4 margin."
This is an important issue, and NARAL's concern should not be too readily dismissed. But it's worth taking some time to research the court cases behind their concern. As the Times reveals, in 2002 Sotomayor sided with George W. Bush on the Global Gag Rule, which had withheld federal funds from nongovernmental health and family planning organizations that provided abortion information or referrals in other countries. And in 2004 she sided with anti-choice demonstrators who wanted to sue police for using excessive force to break up a demonstration. I don't see either of these decisions as a threat to Roe v. Wade. They didn't deal directly with the issue of abortion rights as U.S. law. The Times piece also cites some cases in which Sotomayor sided with Chinese women who were threatened with forced abortions under China's strict population control program. But there is a big difference between opposing forced abortions and supporting a woman's own right to reproductive choice. In fact, opposing forced abortions is, in itself, supportive of the woman's own choice. And then the Times chose end the piece with a bit of ethnic stereotyping. It presents the views of Steven Waldman of, who seems to think that he can predict Sotomayor's legal decisions based not on the law but on her ethnicity:
Mr. Waldman of [...] noted that Judge Sotomayor was raised Roman Catholic, although there are many judges who do not follow the church's dogma -- like opposing abortion and the death penalty -- in their jurisprudence. Moreover, he said, it is significant that as a group, Hispanics include a higher percentage of abortion opponents than many other parts of the Democratic Party's coalition. Judge Sotomayor's parents moved from Puerto Rico. "At the very least, she grew up in a culture that didn't hold the pro-life position in contempt," Mr. Waldman said.
And this is supposed to be journalism? Not only do I find this ethnic stereotyping disturbing, I am insulted by the implication that Sotomayor is little more than a product of her culture, and not a highly educated legal professional trained and practiced in the art of critical thinking and the science of law. In short, it seems to me that we do not have enough strong evidence to guess how Sotomayor would decide if faced with a challenge to Roe v. Wade. So, with that in mind, I would have to agree with NARAL that it's up to the Senate to press the issue during the confirmation process, if they believe it to be relevant. And it is up to Sotomayor to answer or not, based on whether or not she believes it to be relevant.
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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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