Week in Review: VT Shooting, Abortion Ruling

The week's news included a major Supreme Court decision on abortion, the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before Congress, more deadly bombings in Iraq and the implications of the Virginia Tech massacre.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer sitting in for Scott Simon.

It was a big news week dominated, of course, by the sad details of the Virginia Tech shootings. But also this week, the Supreme Court issued a major ruling on abortion signaling a shift in course. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finally went before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it was another violent week in Iraq.

Here to discuss the week's news is NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, two things that have been on my mind in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings are mental health and gun control.

SCHORR: Mm-hmm. Well, mental health has always been a great problem in this country because there are laws in certain cases making it impossible to commit somebody to a mental health institution without provision. The result is that there are people, as the case of Mr. Cho, the Korean, there are people who don't get committed when they should be committed.

WERTHEIMER: What about gun control, though? We understand that this young man man just went across the street from the campus…

SCHORR: Right.

WERTHEIMER: …bought a gun…

SCHORR: Right.

WERTHEIMER: …easily bought another gun and a lot of ammunition, no problem. And then just a short time later used it to kill his fellow students.

SCHORR: Well, you know, all the way back to the Kennedy assassination, I can recall the people saying, now there's going to be gun control. Whether it was after Jack Kennedy, it was after Bobby Kennedy, now you see, now they're going to do it under the (unintelligible) anyway. And it didn't happen. You know, 240 million guns in this country, I think, more guns than there are adults to wield those guns.

WERTHEIMER: We don't know whether gun control will rise up again as a political issue in the 2008 elections.

SCHORR: I think not.

WERTHEIMER: Not?

SCHORR: No. If it hasn't in the past under similar dramatic circumstances, there's nothing to make us believe on the contrary that you'll find that those who favor possession of guns will use this as a, see, if (unintelligible) some of those kids in those classes had guns, we wouldn't be in this fix.

WERTHEIMER: I've heard exactly that myself. Abortion now. Dan, that is going to be a political issue, it seems to me, in the 2008 elections. That's because the Supreme Court ruling this week upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. That's the first time that the court has not required some kind of an exception for the health of the woman. What do you think this might mean politically? How do you think it's going to play out?

SCHORR: Well, I think, in the first place, it carries out the prediction of many that once Justice O'Connor was off the court and replaced by a conservative, it would begin to tilt the balance of the court to it's - a more conservative court. And that, apparently, has begun to happen.

WERTHEIMER: Which side would be advantaged on this? Pro-life? Pro-choice?

SCHORR: I - that's hard to say. It may, in the end, be an advantage for the people who want to make abortion available because there are built into it a little permission that if the health of the mother is involved, you can challenge the constitutionality of this act. Don't ask me to give you all that lawyers should know, but I have an impression that as with every other previous thing, you know, there are those who will fight to retain abortion. And there will be those who agreed this is a great victory and say, let's go forward and get rid of Roe v. Wade.

WERTHEIMER: Also this week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There was talk beforehand that this could be a make or break for him. That he could lose his job or save it, depending upon how the hearing went. What do you think?

SCHORR: Somebody counted 71 times that the attorney general said he didn't remember. I don't think that was very good for him. I think, that - I'll tell you what it puts me in mind of, back in the Watergate days in 1973. There was - they had nominated somebody to be head of the FBI, Pat Gray. And he committed so great faux pas, which resulted - they decided they were going to drop him. And when John Ehrlichman was asked by John Dean what the attitude was going to be, it was, well, let's just leave him twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.

I am not sure that we won't see a little twisting in the wind in the coming weeks.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, finally, looking overseas. This week has been a particularly brutal one in Iraq. Hundreds have been killed this week alone. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made an unannounced visit to Iraq. And here in Washington, the Democratic Congress and the White House cannot seem to come to any kind of agreement on the funding bill for the war.

SCHORR: Well, the Democrats are trying. They don't want to be caught in this one of being accused of not sending what our troops need over there. And so they can get any little concession to their position. The last I heard was advisory - not timeline, not benchmark - but an advisory opinion on when should we start bringing the troops home. I don't see that the White House giving in at this point.

I don't really see any kind of real compromise coming very, very soon. And in the end, it's going to become terrible because there will be people pointing to our troops and saying, we're reaching the point where we can't supply them. It's going to be very unpleasant.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Dan Schorr. Thank you very much, Dan.

SCHORR: Thank you, Linda.

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