Gonzales' anti-choice legacy

He may be gone, but the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is sticking around.

Published August 28, 2007 10:06AM (EDT)

When I heard about Attorney general Alberto Gonzales' resignation this morning, my first thought wasn't about what his overdue departure will mean for women's issues. His audacious defenses of administration policies on torture and domestic surveillance, and his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys, make it easy to forget that Gonzales is also the guy behind Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, the landmark cases in which the Supreme Court upheld the speciously named 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

Which is sort of amazing, because that decision was a huge victory for the campaign to chip away at women's reproductive rights. As the Washington Post noted earlier this year, the court's opinion "marked the first time justices have agreed that a specific abortion procedure could be banned"; in a piece by Broadsheet's Lynn Harris, Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northrup observed that the opinion basically overturned three decades of settled constitutional law. But because it's Gonzales we're talking about, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act decision doesn't even make the first page of his résumé; he's flown in the face of settled law so many times that his role in restricting abortion access feels like a footnote.

So it wasn't immediately on my mind today. Happily, Planned Parenthood has its eye on the ball. Organization president Cecile Richards issued a short press release today, cheering Gonzales' departure and requesting that the Bush administration think harder about its next appointment:

"We call upon President Bush to nominate and the Senate to confirm an attorney general who will be America's lawyer, and will stand firmly to protect our liberties, including our right to privacy in all of its dimensions. America deserves an attorney general who will protect our fundamental freedoms, including the right to make private, personal health care decisions free from government intrusion."

Generally I don't like to see abortion-rights advocates dodging the A-word, but using buzzwords like privacy and liberty seems a smart choice in this case, since it makes a subtle connection between abortion rights and other topics on which Gonzales gets really scary, like warrantless wiretapping and habeas corpus. And I'm happy Planned Parenthood was quick out of the gate on this one, because reproductive rights should be on the list of mandatory discussion topics during confirmation hearings for the next A.G. nominee. Bush administration appointees tend to be classic cases of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," and early indications about acting Attorney General Paul Clement don't seem too promising. Here's hoping our senators don't get fooled again.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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