Alito: The Wolf At The Door

The room was cold and sterile: only a nondescript conference table, four suited men and me. In 1969, before Roe v. Wade, it was that room or the back alley -- women had no other choices.

I was a mother of three, abandoned by her husband and pregnant. I had made the difficult decision to have an abortion. And this all-male hospital review board sat as my judge and jury and would determine whether I would be permitted to have a so-called "therapeutic" abortion. Their interrogation was demeaning and humiliating, probing the most intimate details of my personal and family life. Only later would I learn that the greatest indignity of all was yet to come -- the state forced me to obtain permission from the man who had deserted me and my three daughters.

Decades later, President George W. Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Samuel Alito, made it clear he had no sympathy for women in my predicament. In 1991, in Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey, Judge Alito wrote that state legislatures, not women, should have the right to decide what's in the best interest of women. In his dissent, he upheld a spousal notification requirement mandating married women to notify their husbands before having an abortion. And in so doing, he revealed the disturbing gap between his understanding of the law and its impact on real people's lives. Alito's position in Casey highlights his weakness as a jurist and one vitally important reason he should not be confirmed to the land's highest court.

President Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito was a complete capitulation to the extreme right of his party and a bold attempt to solidify an arch-conservative Supreme Court majority prepared to revoke fundamental freedoms and reverse decades of social progress, including, first and foremost, Roe v. Wade.

For two generations of post-Roe women, illegal back-alley abortions have been a relic from an unenlightened past. These women have been able to control their reproductive life. For them, reproductive choice has been a fundamental, constitutional right and protection from government intrusion into their private health decisions assumed. But all that is now in danger; all that could change with the confirmation of Judge Alito.

And just so there is no confusion -- that is exactly what is at stake. Conservatives who have been incrementally dismantling the right of choice now have the complete evisceration of Roe and its protections in their grasp.

Only a small group of Republican senators stand between them and a Supreme Court that could take away a woman's right to choose. This has been the far right's objective since the early 1980s, when it first began its move from the political fringes to the political center of the Republican party.

Their strategy, briefly interrupted by the Clinton years, was to co-opt the independency of the judiciary, stacking the nation's benches with judges who would use their seats as instruments to reverse social progress -- particularly laws recognizing individual rights and liberties.

For this handful of Republican senators, there can be no more hiding behind the shrouded language of "strict constructionism" or "original intent" -- the right's pillaging of Harriet Miers unmasked this smokescreen terminology as mere code words for its ultimate and primary objective: the overturning of Roe.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito tipped his hand. He's no Sandra Day O'Connor. His dissent gives clear insight into his limited, narrow view of individual liberties. In his opinion, it is not an "undue burden" for the state to require spousal notification. In his view, women do not have a fundamental right to control decisions related to their own reproductive health.

When Casey made it to the Supreme Court in 1992, O'Connor, writing in the majority, reaffirmed the core principle that the right of choice is central to women's dignity and equality. And though the court failed to strike down all of Pennsylvania's restrictions, it did find spousal notification constitutes an "undue burden" -- placing Alito's views among the nation's most radical for jurists.

Almost 40 years ago, when I made my decision to have an abortion in the pre-Roe world, I was alone. Society did not value my dignity, my freedom, my children, my choice. And with the Alito nomination, we risk a return to that time.

This is not just a case of crying wolf -- the wolf is at the door and the nation at a crossroads. The Alito nomination represents a defining, decisive moment, for both the court and the nation and will serve as a referendum on the meaning and essence of individual liberty for generations to come.


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