The Senate Judiciary Committee today set January 9th to start confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito, President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court. Today and tomorrow we're going to hear two perspectives on abortion and Judge Alito's nomination. The first commentary is from Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She sees Judge Alito's most prominent dissent in an abortion case in the context of her own experience.


More than 30 years ago, I was a mother of three abandoned by my husband and pregnant. I made the difficult personal decision to have an abortion. But that was 1969, four years before Roe vs. Wade, a time when a woman had only two choices--a dangerous back-alley abortion or seeking permission from an often all-male hospital review board for a so-called therapeutic abortion. I chose the humiliation of the review board only to discover the greatest indignity of all was yet to come. The state forced me to obtain permission from the man who had deserted me and my three daughters.

For me it was a traumatic and profoundly personal invasion of my privacy and my rights. It was a part of my life the state of Pennsylvania had no right to be in. President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Samuel Alito, apparently disagrees. In the pivotal case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito voted to uphold a law that would prohibit women from obtaining an abortion until they first notified their husbands. He claimed only a few women would be harmed; that's a dubious conclusion based on an even more disturbing principle: that individual rights can be violated as long as the rights of not too many individuals are at risk.

In Casey, Alito showed no awareness of, much less respect for, the fundamentally complicated nature of personal relationships. He seems to think that the state can mandate communication between spouses even when those relationships are dysfunctional. But the perfect world of idealized marriage his opinion assumed is not the world the rest of us live in. And in my own case, had I still been happily married rather than recently abandoned, I would have needed neither judges nor legislators to force me to communicate with my husband. For me, this is the most disturbing trend in Alito's jurisprudence, an almost willful ignorance of how people actually live and how his opinions would affect them. That, ultimately, is the most urgent and persuasive reason for the Senate to reject his nomination.

This isn't a hypothetical debate and it's about far more than a single law. Most cases affecting women's reproductive rights have been decided by the narrowest of margins with O'Connor casting the swing vote. Alito's vote would push the balance of power sharply to the right and almost certainly result in Roe vs. Wade's protections being curtailed in cases where O'Connor's vote might have been all that saved them.

The Alito nomination represented a defining moment for President Bush. He capitulated to the most extreme elements of his party. We now arrive at a defining moment for the court and the nation. The Senate must protect the individual rights and liberties of women and all Americans.

BLOCK: Kate Michelman's forthcoming book is titled "With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose."

Tomorrow, Danielle Crittenden will argue that Judge Alito's rulings on abortion reflect the opinions of the majority of Americans.

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