Alito dodges an important question about abortion

In a dialogue with Dianne Feinstein, Judge Alito can't quite agree that a mother's life takes precedence over antiabortion laws.

Published January 11, 2006 12:32PM (EST)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein did a decent job of hitting Samuel Alito with tough Roe-related questions in his second day of confirmation hearings, even busting out some of our favorites from the William Saletan crib sheet that ran in Slate in November. But for his part, Alito mostly meandered around those questions, Feinstein didn't always follow up on his answers, and we're about 10 zillion miles from feeling OK about the guy. One part of their exchange caught the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's attention -- here's the relevant snippet, from the Washington Post transcript:

FEINSTEIN: Let me move on, if I might.

One of the core principles of Roe is that a woman's health must be protected. In Casey, O'Connor specifically wrote that after viability the state, quote, "may, if it chooses, regulate and even proscribe abortion except where it is necessary in appropriate medical judgment for the preservation of the life of the mother."

This requirement to protect a woman's health was also reaffirmed in Stenberg v. Carhart, where it was said, "The court rejects Nebraska's contention that there is no need for a health exception."

Do you agree if a statute restricts access to abortion that it must protect the health of the mother in order for it to be constitutional?

ALITO: Well, I think that the case law is very clear that protecting the life and the health of a mother is a compelling interest throughout pregnancy. I think that's very clear in the case law.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you. I appreciate that.

But where Feinstein says "Thank you," Planned Parenthood says "WTF??" "Judge Samuel Alito dodged the question," the organization said in a press release we received Tuesday afternoon. "He did not affirm that there must be a health exception; instead, he said that the court has always said the state has a 'compelling interest' in women's health throughout pregnancy. That is a far cry from saying that an abortion restriction cannot put a woman's life or health at risk."

Planned Parenthood added, "This question is not merely theoretical but is the exact question pending before the Supreme Court in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood. Rather than answering the question, Alito simply restated what the court has said since Roe v. Wade, refusing to state whether he agreed with this fundamental proposition."

We need Senate Democrats to work on their active-listening skills.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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