Alito and Abortion Rights: A Pro-Choice Perspective

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Madeleine Brand talks with Kate Michelman, former president of the abortion rights group NARAL/Pro-Choice America, about Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito's stance on abortion rights. Michelman is scheduled to testify Thursday at Alito's confirmation hearings. On Friday, Day to Day will get a perspective about Alito's record on abortion from a pro-life advocate.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

One of the witnesses scheduled to testify at Samuel Alito's confirmation hearings is Kate Michelman. She was the long-time president of the abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America and she's also the author of the new book "With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose." And Kate Michelman joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. KATE MICHELMAN (Former President, NARAL Pro-Choice America): Thank you, Madeleine. I'm delighted to be with you.

BRAND: You are scheduled to testify before the committee, and have you prepared your comments? What will you be saying?

Ms. MICHELMAN: I have prepared my comments, and what I'm going to do, as I do in my book, is to start with my personal story of a woman in 1969 who faced a very difficult decision about whether or not to have an abortion after my husband had abandoned me and my three little girls, and I decided to have an abortion. It was illegal. And I went through a humiliating and degrading process to try and avoid the back alleys, which scared me to death. And then talk about Judge Alito's long record and why American women, but all Americans, need to be deeply concerned about how he approaches the law, and why Americans need to be concerned that Judge Alito will not protect our right to personal privacy, whether it's the right of women to make reproductive choices or the right of Americans, frankly, to be free from just unwarranted governmental intrusion into our lives.

BRAND: Yesterday, Judge Alito said that Roe vs. Wade must be treated with respect because it has been reaffirmed by the high court several times. So does that indicate to you that he would be unwilling to vote to overturn it?

Ms. MICHELMAN: No, it doesn't reassure me at all, Judge Alito's answers. He says he is respectful of precedent, meaning prior decisions by the court, but Justice Thomas said that, too. Justice Thomas also said he had an open mind, and then Justice Thomas has been on the court all these years using every opportunity at his disposal to undo these fundamental rights of women.

BRAND: Can you give me an example of where you think that he will be willing to overreach into the right to privacy?

Ms. MICHELMAN: Well, let's look at Justice O'Connor's opinion in the 2000 case, Nebraska case, where she was the decisive vote protecting a woman's right to reproductive health and choice. It was a case that criminalized many abortion procedures, and it was a law that had a narrow exception for a woman's life at risk, but in terms of a doctor's ability to respond to a woman's problems of health, the law did not apply. I mean, the law did not make that exception, and she said that a woman's health has to be paramount. And so she was the fifth vote to strike down that law as unconstitutional.

I think Judge Alito, who will be faced with a very similar case that's working its way to the Supreme Court now--and that is the law that criminalized for the very first time on a federal level, that banned abortion. And will a Judge Alito decide that, as Justice O'Connor did--that that law is unconstitutional? I think that Judge Alito is certainly far to the right of Justice O'Connor on many of these important issues, whether they're reproductive privacy or just sex discrimination issues or privacy generally, personal privacy of Americans. I think he is far to the right.

BRAND: Kate Michelman will be testifying before the Senate committee in the Alito hearings. She's the former president of the abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America, and her new book is called "With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose."

Kate Michelman, thank you for joining us.

Ms. MICHELMAN: You're welcome, Madeleine. Thank you so much for asking me.

BRAND: And tomorrow we'll hear a different perspective on Judge Alito and abortion from Cathy Cleaver Ruse of the Family Research Council.

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