Sotomayor Blurs Lines in Abortion War

Nominee's record may relieve antiabortion groups—and may make abortion-rights advocates nervous.

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Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The news media are reporting that conservative groups are girding for an all-out assault on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. And, to be sure, those groups are slowly releasing statements venting unalloyed outrage at President Obama's first high-court pick.

"She is a radical pick that divides America," Americans United for Life said this morning. "She believes the role of the court is to set policy, which is exactly the philosophy that led to the Supreme Court turning into the 'National Abortion Control Board.'"

On the crucial issue of abortion, however, Sotomayor—a U.S. appeals court judge who previously served as a federal district judge—is largely a blank slate. "Sotomayor has never directly decided whether a law regulating abortion was constitutional," according to a recent Americans United for Life analysis.

Despite the purported outrage by conservative groups, Sotomayor's thin record on abortion is most likely a relief to those groups—and may actually wind up making abortion-rights groups anxious. In light of today's AUL statement, for instance, it may come as a surprise that Sotomayor receives the kindest treatment of nine potential Obama Supreme Court nominations the group examined.

AUL notes that Sotomayor upheld a ban on federal funds going to abortion providers overseas. "The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the antiabortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds," Sotomayor wrote in the decision. She has also ruled in favor of antiabortion protesters who sued West Hartford, Conn., claiming that police there used excessive force against them at a demonstration.

For the moment, groups on the left are applauding Sotomayor, and groups on the right are attacking her. Everyone's following the script. But on abortion, the attitudes on both sides are probably much more complicated.

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