Today Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, gave the following testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court chief justice nominee John Roberts. Planned Parenthood has expressed strong opposition to the nomination of John Roberts.
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee,
I am Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. I am honored to be here today to express the concerns and hopes of our patients and America's pro-choice majority.
I come before you not as an individual but as a representative of millions. Through Planned Parenthood's 850 health centers we provide health care services to nearly five million women, men, and young people every year.
One in four American women will visit a Planned Parenthood health center in her lifetime. These women represent Americans from every walk of life and from all parts of the country.
What is at stake at these hearings is nothing less than women's health and lives.
Americans deserve a Supreme Court that will protect, not take away, our basic freedoms.
The record of Judge Roberts reveals a nominee who, as chief justice, is not likely to uphold constitutional protections for the right to choose abortion.
And while we fought hard for that right, and will fight just as hard to protect it, Planned Parenthood does everything in our power to reduce the need for abortion. Yet, there are forces at work in this nation who seek to restrict comprehensive sex education, birth control, and emergency contraception, the very things that would decrease the number of abortions in this country.
In his response to questions from some of the members of this committee, Judge Roberts has refused to state that he accepts and will protect a woman's constitutional right to choose, a right that has been a part of the fabric of our society for almost two generations.
We ask that you oppose his nomination to the lifetime position of chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Five years ago, in Stenberg v. Carhart, four of the nine justices made it clear that they support either overturning Roe v. Wade or significantly gutting it. To do so would seriously threaten constitutional protections against government regulations that threaten women's health and safety. To do so would send us back to a pre-Roe era when women did not have an equal place at life's table and when making childbearing decisions was a perilous enterprise.
The American people deserve a chief justice who will uphold Roe. And yet Judge Roberts co-authored a brief filed on behalf of the government in Rust v. Sullivan that stated "Roe v. Wade was "wrongly decided and should be overruled."
It is hard for me to understand, senators, how a decision that for the past three decades has helped women participate equally in society could have been "wrongly decided." It is hard for me to understand why a decision that allowed women to realize their dreams should be "overruled."
We at Planned Parenthood are faced with the prospect of violence and intimidation every day of our lives. My first day on the job at Planned Parenthood, a sign was posted on the front door that threatened, "Anyone who enters will be killed." When I volunteered as a clinic escort, violent protesters hit us with their signs.
In the Bray case, Judge Roberts was one of the authors of a brief, arguing in support of the legal position of violent clinic protesters. Nowhere in the brief did the government disavow the actions or tactics of the violent demonstrators — not even in a footnote.
When women's health centers in Wichita, KS, were being blockaded in 1991, a district court issued an injunction against the protesters to protect women who were attempting to enter the centers. Judge Roberts was involved in a highly unusual intervention that sought to lift the injunction, even though that injunction was preventing violence and safeguarding women.
This week, Judge Roberts repeatedly refused to answer whether he will protect the basic rights and freedoms of all Americans. Senator Specter himself pointed out that Roe has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court multiple times.
Notably, Judge Roberts has acknowledged that there is a right to contraception. He is comfortable making these statements, but he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the same about the right to abortion.
As a legal matter, we believe that the right to choose abortion is as settled a fundamental right as the right to contraception. No one should be confirmed to a lifetime position with the power to take away the right to choose who does not accept that proposition.
When Judge Roberts answers questions about Griswold and Eisenstadt, but refuses when it comes to Roe and Casey, Judge Roberts is drawing lines of convenience not rules of law.
No matter how remarkable the person or impressive the resume, a nominee for chief justice ought to be able to tell the American people whether the Constitution allows states to ban abortion. Judge Roberts has refused to do so even when pressed by senators.
We still do not know whether a Roberts Court would preside over the creation of two Americas — one where women with means can obtain abortions even if they are not legal, and one where women without resources cannot.
When our patients' safety is at stake; when the ability of families to make personal, private decisions about their lives is at stake, when women's status in our society is at stake, accepting anything less than clarity would simply be irresponsible.
Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion in the Roe v. Wade decision, which granted Americans the legal right to abortion nationwide. In the decades following that decision, as new justices joined the court who voted to overturn Roe, Blackmun wrote, a chill wind blows. His words echo hauntingly today.
Senators, I urge you not to confirm Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
It is a great honor for me to be with you today, and I look forward to answering your questions.
May 12, 2014