WASHINGTON — Abortion backers are pulling out all the stops to try to sway the public against Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.
Pro-life activists say they have even sacrificed the truth.
The pro-abortion organization NARAL Pro-Choice America ran a television ad earlier this month charging that President Bush's nominee John Roberts supports abortion clinic bombers and other violent extremists. NARAL stands for National Abortion Rights Action League, which is the organization's original name. It is the leading abortion activist organization.
After days of defending the ad's contents as “completely accurate” and dismissing criticism as “far-right spin,” the group finally pulled its ad Aug. 11, claiming it had been “misconstrued.”
The ad featured footage from the aftermath of a 1998 abortion clinic bombing in Birmingham, Ala., juxtaposed with an image of Roberts, President Bush's pick to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.
“Supreme Court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber,” a female announcer intoned ominously.
Shortly after the ad's release, the non-partisan FactCheck.org refuted it with uncharacteristically strong language, calling it “false.”
“This really hurts NARAL's credibility,” said a spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a supporter of Roberts and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Cornyn, in a prepared statement, called the attacks “little more than recycled slander.” He added: “I hope my colleagues can resist this low-road approach to what should be a fair, thorough and dignified confirmation process.”
NARAL's ad refers to a friend of the court brief that Roberts authored on behalf of the administration of President George H.W. Bush in the 1990 Supreme Court case of Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic. Roberts, at the time serving in the Justice Department as deputy solicitor general, wrote a brief addressing a very narrow legal question completely unrelated to clinic violence.
The brief, which was signed by Roberts and five other administration lawyers, argued that pro-lifers from Operation Rescue, arrested for blockading a Virginia abortion clinic, were not involved in a conspiracy to deprive women of civil rights.
“A conspiracy to deter pregnant women from having abortions,” Roberts argued, is not an act of discrimination under federal law. The rescuers, he argued, could not be sued as civil rights violators, even if they could be prosecuted for other criminal offenses.
“Various acts of Congress exclude abortion services from the ambit of federal medical assistance programs,” the brief stated. “A decision by this Court that opposition to abortion is a form of gender-based discrimination could bring those laws into question, on the ground that they violate equal protection principles underlying the Due Process Clause by discriminating against women.”
The Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the brief's view, returning a 6-3 decision in favor of the protestors. The court found that the protestors could not be sued under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which allows plaintiffs to sue those who act on a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of a class of people.
One of the defendants, Michael Bray, had been convicted of bombing an abortion clinic — the source of NARAL's claim that Roberts supported “a convicted clinic bomber.” The ad also stated that Roberts’ “ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.”
But the ad chose to run footage of a 1998 clinic bombing, which took place seven years after the Roberts brief in question.
A spokesman for NARAL did not return phone calls from the Register.
Despite the slanders contained in the advertisement, CNN agreed to run the ad and began doing so last week even as criticism mounted. The ad ran during daytime news shows, even as it was being discussed and debated by news anchors and pundits on the network.
Laurie Goldberg, a spokeswoman for CNN, refused three times to answer whether CNN takes any responsibility for the content of false or misleading political advertisements. She also declined to answer whether CNN will run any advocacy advertisement, even if it is clearly false. “I can't get into speculation,” she said.
When asked twice about the NARAL ad and its accusations against Roberts, Goldberg referred to a written statement from CNN regarding advocacy commercials on the news network.
The statement reads, “CNN accepts advocacy advertising from responsible groups from across the political spectrum who wish to express their views and their opinions about issues of public importance. So that viewers can further research the claims being made within the ads, the messages must identify the name of the sponsoring organizations, usually by displaying a website address.”
Despite NARAL's suggestion that Roberts believes in the legitimacy of bombing abortion clinics, his view on the topic may be best gleaned from a 1986 draft letter he penned while working as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration. Roberts penned a proposed reply to Rep. Romano Mazzoli, D-Ky., who had expressed concern that President Reagan planned to grant pardons to abortion clinic bombers.
Roberts, who was writing the letter on behalf of a superior, wrote, “The president unequivocally condemns such acts of violence and believes that those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No matter how lofty or sincerely held the goal, those who resort to violence to achieve it are criminals.”
David Freddoso is based in Washington, D.C.
“Thankfully, President Bush has selected Judge John Roberts, a highly qualified nominee, to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Judge Roberts understands the difference between applying laws and rewriting them. He understands that he cannot rewrite the Constitution to fit his own personal political opinions, but that instead he must faithfully adhere to it.”
— Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life
“I have known John Roberts for 17 years. When I talk about John Roberts with the groups, it is not theoretical, it is based on firsthand, direct experience. He and I have argued cases together before the Supreme Court — you can't get more direct than that.”
— Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, a pro-life stalwart who says he knows and trusts Bush's first Supreme Court pick.
“Roberts may have stated that he would uphold Roe v. Wade during his Circuit Court hearings in 2003, but he was simply stating what all Circuit Court nominees say because circuit court judges are required to uphold Supreme Court precedent. If Roberts is confirmed to the Supreme Court he would be free to overturn Roe.”
— NARAL Pro-Choice America's website
“I think that we do know a lot about Judge Roberts, from his life, from his record, from the things he has stood for. We believe the issues we care about will be handled carefully by this judge.”
— Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family
“John Roberts is, by all accounts, a man of deep intellect and high character who understands the proper role of the judiciary in our constitutional republic. There is therefore good reason to hope that he will be a genuine moderate who will not read his own policy views on abortion into the Constitution but who will respect the constitutional authority of the people to govern their own states and communities on this and other issues of social policy.”
— Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center
“PPFA has expressed serious and grave concerns about the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.”
— Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America
“So, is Roberts going to be part of the sorcery the majority of the court has employed over these past 32 years? Is he going to fabricate his own brand of gobbledygook to avoid reality? Is he going to hide behind the 14th Amendment and deny that preborn human beings even be discussed? Nobody knows.”
— Judie Brown, American Life League