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Sonia Sotomayor's Mixed Record On Abortion Rights

By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

While Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is widely hailed by the right as an activist, liberal judge, there are hints in her record that she may be anything but when it comes to abortion rights.

It's been widely reported that she followed Supreme Court precedent in ruling to uphold the Bush administration's so-called Mexico City or gag rule policy. That policy prohibited overseas family planning nonprofits that received U.S. funding from even discussing the option of abortion with women who came to the clinics seeking family planning advice. It was seen at the time as a major advance for religious anti-abortion rights groups, and a major defeat when President Obama overturned that executive order right after he took office.

But there are also two lesser-known rulings that would also seem to plant her firmly in the anti-abortion court. In one case, she won praise from one conservative lawmaker in a decision regarding whether a Chinese immigrant couple deserved amnesty in the United States for fleeing China's one-child policy:

Now-retired Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) praised Sotomayor's dissent in a 2nd Circuit Court decision ruling that Chinese men were ineligible for asylum along with their wives, when they were subjected to forced abortion or sterilization.

And as colleague Dan Gilgoff points out, analysis by the conservative group Americans United for Life found Sotomayor siding with pro-life protesters in a third ruling:

[Sotomayor] has also ruled in favor of antiabortion protesters who sued West Hartford, Conn., claiming that police there used excessive force against them at a demonstration.

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates are expressing excitement over the president's nomination of the first Latina to the U.S. Supreme Court, but reserving judgment on her position on abortion rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup issued a statement yesterday that stopped short of a full endorsement:

We encourage the Senate Judiciary Committee to engage Judge Sotomayor and any future nominees to the Court on their commitment to the principles of Roe v. Wade. Anything less threatens not only a woman's constitutional rights, but her life and health."

Similar statements emanated from Planned Parenthood and the National Women's Law Center. One of two things is going on here. Either President Obama has picked a well-disguised pro-life nominee to the court, about which conservatives should be gleeful. Or he has chosen a nominee whose pro-choice views are so cloaked in noncommittal rulings that she is the stealth of all stealth pro-choice court nominees.

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By Bonnie Erbe