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On abortion, a nuanced stand

In 3 of 4 cases, Supreme Court nominee Alito voted on the side of abortion rights.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 2, 2005



WASHINGTON

If there was any doubt about where US Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito stands on abortion, his 90-year-old mother quickly and decisively put that question to rest.

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"Of course he's against abortion," Rose Alito told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from her Hamilton, N.J., home.

Her candid statement may go down in history as the most blunt and honest admission of a Supreme Court nominee's view on the hot-button issue.

But the true test of appeals court judges isn't which personal views they hold, but to what extent those personal views may influence how they rule in a particular case.

On this issue, legal analysts disagree in their assessments of Judge Alito. Some say he is a conservative ideologue. Others say he is a smart, careful jurist who leaves personal views behind when he dons his black robes.

The best evidence of his work as a judge are his published opinions. They contain a few surprises and some ammunition - for both the left and the right.

For example, of the four abortion cases in which he participated as an appeals court judge, he voted on the pro-choice side in all but one. A 1995 Alito vote striking down a Pennsylvania abortion restriction in particular is raising eyebrows among some legal scholars.

"That [1995 case] strongly seems to indicate that Alito is not a policy-driven true-believer who's used every possible opportunity to advance one side's preferred outcome, but instead a judge who has indeed come down on both sides, in different cases," says David Garrow, a constitutional historian and expert in reproductive rights cases at the high court.

Senate investigators, legal scholars, and special interest group lawyers are poring over Judge Alito's opinions written during 15-years of work on the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals. They are looking for clues of what kind of justice Alito might become if confirmed to a life-tenure post on the nation's highest court.

How he may rule in abortion cases is particularly relevant to the inquiry since President Bush has named him to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a key swing voter and defender of abortion rights.

If Alito holds a different view on that issue, his vote could shift the balance of power on the court. His four abortion cases include:

• A 1991 challenge to a Pennsylvania law requiring married women to notify their husbands before seeking an abortion. The court struck down the restriction. Alito dissented.

• A 1995 challenge to a Pennsylvania law that required women seeking to use Medicaid funds to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest to report the incident to law enforcement officials and identify the offender. Alito provided the decisive vote striking down the abortion restriction.

• A 1997 challenge to a New Jersey law that prevents parents from suing for damages on behalf of the wrongful death of a fetus. Alito ruled that the Constitution does not afford protection to the unborn.

• A 2000 challenge to New Jersey's ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. Alito struck down the law based on a recent Supreme Court decision.

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