WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has provoked concern among abortion-rights advocates who say they have seen no evidence that she supports upholding Roe v. Wade.
Unlike other candidates considered for the court opening, Sotomayor has never ruled on abortion or taken a public position in favor of abortion rights.
In her only abortion-related decision, she did not come down the way abortion-rights groups would have liked: In 2002, Sotomayor rejected a challenge to President George W. Bush’s “Mexico City policy,” which required foreign groups receiving U.S. funds to pledge that they would not support or promote abortion.
Sotomayor spoke for a three-judge panel that upheld the policy as constitutional. The government “is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position and can do so with public funds,” she said.
“I simply don’t know Judge Sotomayor’s view on Roe v. Wade. I will be very concerned if the question is not asked and answered during the Senate hearings,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Northup said she would be surprised if Obama, who as a candidate for president spoke out in favor of abortion rights, chose a justice who did not feel the same way. “But other presidents have been surprised before,” she said.
The White House only added to abortion-rights advocates’ concern Wednesday when it said Obama had not discussed the issue with his nominee.
Last year, Obama’s campaign said he would make “preserving a woman’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade a priority as president.” This year he has sought to bridge the divide over abortion and has talked about finding ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies and encourage adoption.
Two years ago, in a case not involving abortion but of concern to some women’s groups, Sotomayor joined an appeals court ruling that threw out a challenge to a school district’s policy that required teachers to notify a parent if they knew a girl was pregnant. The court said the teachers had no legal basis for objecting to the policy.
The abortion issue may well have helped Sotomayor emerge as the nominee. Another candidate reportedly on the shortlist, Judge Diane P. Wood of Chicago, has a strong public record of supporting abortion rights. For instance, she dissented a decade ago when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans on so-called “partial-birth abortions” in Wisconsin and Illinois.
White House lawyers knew that if Wood was nominated to the high court, conservative activists would be likely to launch attacks on her decisions.