Privacy and Reproductive Rights

At his confirmation hearing, Pryor testified that he still believes, as he has said previously, that Roe v. Wade was “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” He repeatedly reaffirmed that stance even after Sen. Charles Schumer observed that such a statement would mean that Roe was worse than the Supreme Court’s decisions in Dred Scott, which declared slaves to be property with no rights, Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld legally forced segregation, and Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II.

Pryor’s defenders have tried to use his supposed “narrowing” of Alabama’s ban on so-called “partial birth” abortion as an example of his willingness to enforce Supreme Court decisions he disagrees with, because he instructed district attorneys to enforce the law only in post-viability situations. In fact, the law he was trying to salvage had an additional constitutional flaw because it contained no exception to protect a woman’s health.

In response to a written question from Sen. Schumer, Pryor said that he would have to acknowledge, after the Court’s Stenberg ruling overturning a similar Nebraska “partial birth” ban, that the Alabama law was unconstitutional without a health exception. But it is clear as a matter of law that the Alabama law was unconstitutional even before that ruling. Stenberg made no new law regarding a health exception; the Court majority reaffirmed what it had clearly established in its Roe and Casey rulings.

Pryor’s actions regarding the Alabama law, far from demonstrating a commitment to enforcing laws and Supreme Court rulings he disagrees with, actually demonstrated his willingness as attorney general to try to enforce a law that was clearly unconstitutional. This severely undermines the assertions of Pryor and his supporters that he could be counted on to separate his personal views from his responsibilities as a judge. In any event, there is a vast difference between the job of an attorney general, enforcing laws that others have created, and that of a judge, charged with interpreting the law in nuanced and complex situations.

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