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Anti-Roberts ad goes too far

A Times Editorial
Published August 12, 2005

A scurrilous television advertisement by an abortion rights group opposing the confirmation of Judge John Roberts Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court makes inflammatory and baseless claims that undermine its own cause. NARAL Pro-Choice America should reconsider its smear campaign before it alienates the group's more sensible friends.

In the 30-second spot sponsored by NARAL, Roberts is depicted as a supporter of those who would engage in violence against abortion clinics. The commercial opens with images of a 1998 clinic bombing in Alabama. A narrator then suggests that Roberts filed briefs on behalf of violent antiabortion groups. This is outrageous.

In truth, Roberts was representing the Justice Department under the first President Bush in a case involving the interpretation of a federal statute used to enjoin antiabortion groups from blocking clinic entryways. The statute was originally passed as a federal tool to be used against the collective violence of the Ku Klux Klan. Roberts argued it was inapplicable to antiabortion groups that conspired to physically block women from entering abortion clinics. He emphasized in an oral argument before the Supreme Court that the administration was not defending the conduct of the activists, but rather proposing a "proper interpretation" of the statute. In a 6-3 ruling in 1993, the Supreme Court agreed with Roberts' analysis.

The NARAL ad provoked an immediate response by a conservative group, Progress for America, which has announced that it will bash it with a pro-Roberts ad campaign. All of this posturing from outside groups is unhelpful. There certainly are reasons for supporters of abortion rights to be concerned about Roberts, not the least of which is that the president who selected him is opposed to legalized abortion. But linking the nominee to people who bomb abortion clinics will not sway public opinion against Roberts as much as against the irresponsible messenger.

[Last modified August 12, 2005, 00:46:18]

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