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Specter ignites flap over abortion: considering that he is in line to head the Senate Judiciary Committee, which examines judicial nominees for federal courts, Senator Specter's pro-abortion stance is troubling.

Barring any unforeseen and truly startling developments, Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) will serve as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for at least the next six years. He won re-election in November, and because Senate rules now bar retention of committee chairmanships beyond eight years, the current chairman, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), must step aside when the new Congress convenes in January. Specter, who is next in seniority, will take the chair.

This means that an outspoken advocate of abortion will lead the important Senate committee that passes first judgment on all nominations for federal judgeships, including those for positions on the Supreme Court. With numerous ailing and aging justices sitting on the high court, vacancies will almost certainly develop.

Pro-life Americans remember that Specter led the fight against approval of Robert Bork, who opposed Roe v. Wade, for a seat on the Supreme Court in 1987. Specter was the lone Republican who joined with the Democrat majority to oppose Bork's nomination at the Judiciary Committee level. The Pennsylvanian then claimed that he opposed Judge Bork for a variety of reasons, but the pro-life movement has always contended that the matter of abortion was his key motivation. After a bruising session before the Judiciary Committee and 12 days before the entire Senate, Bork's nomination was rejected 58-42.

During subsequent years, Specter demonstrated his support for abortion in a number of instances. In 1998, he approved the nomination of Dr. David Satcher to be the nation's Surgeon General. Satcher favored the grisly procedure known as partial-birth abortion.

Also, a non-binding measure known merely as a "sense of the Congress" asked members to register opinions both in 1999 and 2003 on the advisability of overturning Roe v. Wade. Each time, Specter voted to let the infamous 1973 decision stand, thereby solidifying a continuation of the practice that claims close to 1.5 million infants each year.

Early in 2004, conservative Republican Congressman Pat Toomey mounted a primary challenge to the well-entrenched liberal, and the most talked about issue in that campaign was abortion, with Toomey's outspoken pro-life position standing in clear opposition to Specter's open advocacy of what he always labels "choice." When it looked as though Toomey would prevail, President Bush entered the fray: he traveled to Pennsylvania to urge voters to back Specter.

Questioned about his support for an openly avid pro-abortion legislator, Mr. Bush admitted that Specter was "a little bit independent-minded sometimes [but] a firm ally when it matters most." Contrary to a widely held belief, Mr. Bush obviously doesn't consider abortion an issue that "matters most."

That April primary saw Specter squeak by with 527,000 votes to Toomey's 510,000. President Judie Brown of the American Life League laments that many pro-lifers have become "Republicans first and pro-life next."

No sooner had the November elections guaranteed a Republican majority in the Senate with Specter in line to lead the Judiciary than Specter told reporters, "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely." His comment outraged pro-life forces nationwide who flooded Senate leaders with demands that he be denied the Judiciary post. After first stating that Specter's remarks were "disheartening," Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) held a meeting with the GOP's Judiciary Committee members and then predicted that Specter would indeed assume the post when the new Congress convenes in January.

For his part, Specter quickly did a strategic backup. In a televised interview on November 14, he stated that he has never required a "litmus test" for judicial nominees. He followed his appearance on ABC TV by issuing a four-paragraph statement claiming that he was merely stating the obvious, not announcing his personal plans. He even advanced the possibility of working to change Senate rules in order to put an end to the practice of blocking nominations with a filibuster.

To try to support Specter, Bush's chief political adviser Karl Rove entered the fray with assurances that Specter had promised the president that all nominees would receive a prompt hearing at the Judiciary Committee level and a speedy up-and-down vote by the entire Senate. In a TV interview, Rove insisted, "Senator Specter is a man of his word. We'll take him at his word." The burning question, however, is which "word" should be relied upon. Less than two weeks before the November election, the October 24, 2004, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette endorsed Specter in his Senate race against Democratic Congressman Joe Hoeffel. Admitting that the editorial board based its choice on "[Specter's] seniority which puts him in line to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee," the endorsement pointed out that Specter "promised that no extremists would be approved for the bench." Simultaneously, the Bucks County Courier Times noted: "Specter said he does use his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee ... to weed out judges who are extreme." The Courier Times revealed that Specter proudly pointed to his effort to block approval of Robert Bork in 1987, and even quoted the senator saying, "I not only voted against Bork, I led the charge against him."

While Specter was busy seeking to clarify his storm-creating post-election remarks, the interim president of ardently pro-abortion NARAL Pro-Choice America defended the Pennsylvanian. Elizabeth Cavendish claimed to be greatly encouraged by the senator's remarks about the improbability of overturning Roe v. Wade. And she referred to his remarks "as an important statement to the president that he should not interpret the election results as a mandate to take away fundamental freedoms."

Republicans have always claimed to be the pro-life party. But that claim can no longer be made credibly. And Senator Arlen Specter is the man most responsible for this remarkable shift.
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Title Annotation:Abortion; Arlen Specter
Author:McManus, John F.
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Dec 13, 2004
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