Abortion rights groups gear up for battle over Court
Urging Bush to choose moderate


Friday, July 1, 2005; Posted: 7:04 p.m. EDT (23:04 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Abortion rights groups jumped into action Friday immediately after Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation, saying her loss from the Supreme Court's bench puts women's reproductive rights in jeopardy and urging President Bush to choose a moderate justice.

"This will be a defining moment -- President Bush has to pick between what mainstream America wants and what the radical right demands," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "He can make good on his promises to unite the country by reaching out across party lines to find a consensus nominee who'll respect privacy rights, value women's freedom and defend constitutional traditions."

She added, "One thing is very clear: If the president makes this vacancy an opportunity to push his personal ideology, you can bet your last dollar he's got a real fight on his hands. The 60 percent of Americans who want Roe v. Wade left alone will not be silent this time."

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation's leading reproductive health-care provider, said it is organizing its grass-roots activists and lobbyists in all 50 states "to sound a call to arms in defense of reproductive rights."

"The resignation of Justice O'Connor creates a devastating and dangerous moment for reproductive health care and women's rights," said Karen Pearl, Planned Parenthood's interim president. "With so much at stake, Planned Parenthood will be on the front lines of the Supreme Court battles to ensure women's health is protected."

O'Connor has been a key figure on the court in upholding abortion rights.

In 1992, she voted with the majority in a 5-4 decision that upheld the the central ruling of Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion and said that states may not prohibit abortions, at least until a fetus becomes viable.

In 2000, Justice O'Connor was the swing vote in a 5-4 decision that struck down a Nebraska law making it a crime for doctors to perform a late-term procedure referred to by its foes as "partial-birth abortion."

The National Right to Life Committee on Friday said it was closely monitoring the situation.

"Millions of Americans will be watching to see whether the Senate Democratic leadership bows to the demands of certain pressure groups that a nominee must pledge to rule for the pro-abortion side in future cases," said NRLC political director Carol Tobias.

On Thursday, Bush told a Danish journalist he has "always believed" that "abortion ought to be illegal with the exception of rape, incest or life of the mother."

"I'm a realist, as well," Bush told the Danish Broadcasting Corp. "I mean, this is an issue that has polarized the American political society. And in order to get good policy in place that protects the life of a child, we're going to have to change hearts."

Bush said the debate on abortion is taking place among "good, decent, honorable, patriotic Americans who have a difference of opinion."

"I happen to be one who believes that we ought to guard life. Life is precious in all forms, all stages."

In a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, 65 percent of the respondents said they would want a new Supreme Court justice to vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, while 29 percent said they would want the new justice to vote to overturn it. The poll had a margin of error 3 percentage points.

There is one case slated to be heard later this year by the Supreme Court dealing with abortion, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood.

That case deals with the New Hampshire Parental Notification Prior to Abortion Act, which prohibits abortions for minors unless parents have been notified.

A doctor who performed an abortion without the parental notification would face criminal charges and civil liability from the parents. Planned Parenthood wants the act declared unconstitutional.

Abortion rights groups fear that without O'Connor -- and the prospect of a conservative replacement -- individual rights hang in the balance.

"I hope President Bush will spare the country the divisiveness of a controversial nomination for such an important office. But if that's the route he chooses, pro-choice Americans are ready for the fight," NARAL's Keenan said.