Abortion Views Key for Miers Backers, Foes

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers lacks a paper trail on the issue of abortion, and that's left advocates and opponents of abortion rights searching for clues about her beliefs. Many organizations involved in the abortion debate are withholding judgment on Miers until her views on the right to choose become more clear. Madeleine Brand reports on how political observers — and those close to her — are evaluating Miers' views.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, disturbing parallels between avian flu and the deadliest influenza epidemic ever.

First, Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers continues to meet today with senators on Capitol Hill even as some conservatives express doubts about her qualifications and confusion about her beliefs. A pivotal question: How would Ms. Miers rule on abortion? There's little to go on in her record, though from scant clues, it appears she holds anti-abortion views. Still, those on both sides of the issue are pressing for more facts. Here's my colleague Madeleine Brand with more.

MADELEINE BRAND reporting:

Abortion came up at a news conference this week when a reporter asked President Bush where Harriet Miers stands.

Unidentified Reporter: Have you ever discussed with Harriet Miers abortion, or have you gleaned from her comments her views on that subject?

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I have no litmus test. That's also something I've consistently said. There is no litmus test. What matters to me is her judicial philosophy.

BRAND: President Bush has said that he's known Miers for more than 10 years, that he knows her heart and her character. And so the reporter pressed him.

Unidentified Reporter: But she is not someone you interviewed for the job that you didn't know. You've known her a long time. Have you never discussed...

Pres. BUSH: I...

Unidentified Reporter: ...abortion with her?

Pres. BUSH: In my interviews with any judge, I never ask their personal opinion on the subject of abortion.

Unidentified Reporter: In your friendship with her, you've never discussed it?

Pres. BUSH: Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her. What I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be.

BRAND: That was good enough for the National Right to Life Committee, which endorsed Miers, but not good enough for Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

Mr. TROY NEWMAN (President, Operation Rescue): Who is she? And we need something more than a blank slate to rally behind, and the conservatives and the Christian individuals and moral people who voted for the president demand and deserve more.

BRAND: In other words, says Newman, the president needs to nominate someone who is certain to vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, someone like justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has been the swing vote on Roe. She cast the decisive vote to uphold it in 1992. If Miers gets her seat, she would presumably sit in that swing chair, and there are two abortion cases before the court this term.

Nathan Hecht is a judge in Texas who's a long-time friend of Miers. He says abortion opponents shouldn't worry about her.

Judge NATHAN HECHT (Texas Judge): She's pro-life and has been for a long time; goes to a church that, you know, their position is pro-life. So it's part of that.

BRAND: Raised a Catholic, Miers became a born-again, evangelical Christian in the early 1980s. Hecht brought her to the conservative Valley View Church in Dallas, where Barry McCarty is a minister.

Reverend BARRY McCARTY (Minister, Valley View Church): We teach that all people are created in the image of God and that every human life from the moment of its conception is a precious gift from God and therefore should be protected and preserved.

Ms. KAREN PEARL (Interim President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America): I don't think anybody in this country should be an up or down on their position based on where they might be a member of a church.

BRAND: Karen Pearl is interim president for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Ms. PEARL: It just raises the requirement that she let the Senate know and let the American public know where she stands.

BRAND: Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups have yet to endorse or reject Miers. They want more information. But they say they're increasingly disturbed by her history. When she was president of the Texas bar 12 years ago, she petitioned the American Bar Association to reconsider its endorsement of Roe vs. Wade. The ABA declined her request. She once donated $150 to an anti-abortion group in Texas. And Miers' friend, Judge Nathan Hecht, says they went to a few pro-life dinners together in the early 90s. But, Hecht says, they have never discussed Roe. And, he says, he has no idea how she'd rule on abortion cases.

Judge HECHT: You can't extrapolate from the fact that someone is pro-life what they're going to do in a particular case. I mean, it's one thing to have a personal conviction that this is the way you ought to live your life, and it's another thing to say, `This is what the Constitution says.' They're just not the same.

BRAND: And that's what worries someone like Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, who fears Miers might be another David Souter, appointed by President Bush's father, and who once on the court voted to uphold Roe.

Mr. NEWMAN: The president insists on giving us these kind of conservatives in dark glasses and trench coats that he's trying to sneak in in the back door, and we say no, he's been given a mandate to reform the Supreme Court, and that's exactly what we want to do.

BRAND: While the president is urging everyone to trust his choice and believe in Miers' character, interest groups on both sides are looking for something more tangible. They'll get that when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearings expected next month. Madeleine Brand, NPR News, Los Angeles.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick, and there's more DAY TO DAY in just a moment.

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