Treating women like girls?

Slate's Saletan takes Alito to task on abortion.

Published November 4, 2005 11:00PM (EST)

In case anyone missed William Saletan's smart and snarky analysis of one of Samuel Alito's most important abortion-related opinions in Slate yesterday, it's worth circling back for a look. Alito, of course, is President Bush's nominee for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's Supreme Court seat, and Saletan examines the ways in which Alito interpreted O'Connor's arguments when writing his opinion in the 1991 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Alito wrote that because O'Connor had previously ruled that parental-notification laws at the state level did not pose an undue burden to pregnant minors, state laws requiring a woman to notify her spouse before having an abortion didn't pose any undue burden, either. Sadly for Alito, the Planned Parenthood case went to the Supreme Court, and O'Connor smacked him down: "Minors will benefit from consultation with their parents and ... children will often not realize that their parents have their best interests at heart. We cannot adopt a parallel assumption about adult women." Saletan rhetorically asks Alito: "What I'd like to know is, why do you think it's constitutional to treat a pregnant woman like a child?"

Adopting the role of a senator at a confirmation hearing, Saletan goes on to grill Alito about other instances in which he has interpreted a woman's right to choose much more narrowly than O'Connor has. He also points out that O'Connor herself seemed worried about the effect Alito's reasoning would have on women's rights: "If a husband's interest in the potential life of the child outweighs a wife's liberty, the State could require a married woman to notify her husband before she uses a post-fertilization contraceptive," O'Connor wrote in response to Alito's opinion in the Planned Parenthood case. "Perhaps next in line would be a statute requiring pregnant married women to notify their husbands before engaging in conduct causing risks to the fetus."

Taking O'Connor's questioning a step further, Saletan asks, "Why does the man get all the breaks in your legal reasoning, Judge? ... If we put you on this court -- if we give you [O'Connor's] seat -- would you strike down any of those laws she's talking about? Or is it open season on pregnant women?"

We sure hope Senate Democrats are paying attention.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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