Weekly Pulse: Sotomayor an Enigma on Abortion?

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

Early reactions to Sonia Sotomayor try to gauge her position on abortion rights.

Yesterday, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina and the third
woman ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. She is currently a
federal judge on New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Born to
Puerto Rican immigrant parents and raised by her mother in the housing
projects of the South Bronx, Sotomayor went on to attend college at
Princeton and law school at Yale. George H.W. Bush appointed her to the
U.S. District Court in 1991 and Bill Clinton "promoted" her to the 2nd
Circuit in 1998.

Political Scientist Scott Lemieux writes for TAPPED that, in light of her distinguished resume and inspiring biography, Sotomayor’s confirmation is all but assured:

[…] Obama cited three criteria in choosing Sotomayor:
1) her intellectual capacity (as demonstrated in her sterling academic
record, her success as an assistant district attorney, and her
distinguished service as a federal judge); 2) her approach to judging
based on her opinions, which represent a high level of craftsmanship
and attention to detail; and 3) her compelling personal story, rising
from poverty in the Bronx to Princeton to being an editor at the Yale
Law Journal. This combination of factors will, I think, make her
confirmation inevitable.

In the Nation, John Nichols says that the Sotomayor pick "reflects America".
Within hours of the announcement of Souter’s resignation, conventional
wisdom had pegged Sotomayor as the odds-on favorite for the nomination.
There were a few bumps along the way, though. Brian Beutler of TPM
reports on the anatomy of a preemptive whispering capaign starring anonymous law clerks quoted in the New Republic questioning Sotomayor’s intelligence and temperament.

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While Sotomayor has a reputation for being a liberal jurist, her
record contains few hints about her views on abortion. Attorney and
feminist writer Jill Filipovic reviews Sotomayor’s record on abortion for Rewire. Sotomayor has only ruled on one major abortion-related case in her time as a judge, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, and as Filipovic says, Sotomayor’s conclusion "isn’t going to warm the hearts of reproductive rights activists."

But, as Filipovic explains, abortion wasn’t the issue at stake in
this case. Rather, the question was whether the Bush administration’s
Global Gag Rule was violating the constitutional rights of American
NGOs. The gag rule threatened to revoke their federal funding for
working with foreign NGOs that discussed abortion. For various
technical reasons, Sotomayor concluded that the rule was constitutional
after all. Filipovic continues:

If anything, CRLP v. Bush highlights precisely why
Sotomayor should, in a sane world, be an easy confirmation: She sticks
to the rule of law, respects precedent and writes thoughtful and
reasoned opinions. She was nominated to the federal district court by
George H.W. Bush. Her decisions are left-leaning insofar as she
generally seeks to protect Constitutional rights by supporting
religious freedom and free speech, and she often sides with the
plaintiffs in discrimination cases – hardly "activist" material.

Emily Douglas, also of Rewire, notes that the conservatives aren’t buying the "common ground"
abortion rhetoric the White House has been pushing. Even if the White
House has the votes to confirm Sotomayor, and everyone knows it, a
Supreme Court nomination battle is a golden fundraising opportunity for
the right wing, so expect a lot of sound and fury from that quarter. It
makes them feel relevant.

In other reproductive health news, Dana Goldstein discusses a recent literature review by the Guttmacher Institute arguing that coitus interruptus
is an under-studied and possibly underappreciated form of birth
control. The paper got a lot of discussion because the conventional
wisdom is that withdrawal is ineffective. The study cites a figure that
couples who use withdrawal perfectly have a 4% yearly chance of getting
pregnant vs. 2% for couples who use condoms perfectly. However, the
study doesn’t compare what percentage of couples who try to use
withdrawal actually achieve perfect use compared to couples attempting
to use condoms or other methods. Sex educators’ main concern, apart
from the fact that withdrawal doesn’t protect against STDs, is that an
unusually large number of people attempting it fail to achieve the
desired results. If you only count the efficacy for successes, you get
a distorted picture. In a follow-up post, Goldstein asks whether
doctors might be biased against non-hormonal birth control.

It’s not just big businesses like GM that shoulder the burden of
expensive private health insurance. In a special issue of the
Washington Monthly, Jonathan Gruber argues that a universal healthcare program
could increase American competitiveness by giving people the security
they need to start their own businesses without having to worry about
whether they can afford health insurance for themselves or their

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