Two Words on Women’s Health — Judicial Appointments

Thu, February 21, 2008

Making Our Political Voices Heard


Women’s health and judicial appointments.

Two topics not usually discussed in the same conversation — but they should be.

Many times we have heard nominees for the federal bench say things like their personal views will be checked at the door of the courthouse and that they will not legislate from the bench.

We’re hearing it again from a judicial nominee that President Bush is now trying for the second time to get confirmed before he and Laura have to start packing to move back to Texas.

Whether or not we can believe that assertion is another question.

Bush has nominated Wyoming attorney Richard Honaker to sit on the federal circuit court in Wyoming. In case you’re not familiar, suffice it to say that Honaker, who is currently an attorney in private practice and a former Wyoming legislator, is an opponent of abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances and apparently believes that it’s OK for his religious views to inform his judicial opinions.

According to NOW’s website:

Honaker is a staunch anti-choice advocate who has not only repeatedly stated his view that legal abortion is the equivalent of murder, but has spent significant portions of his career fighting to deny women access to safe, legal reproductive-health services. For example, while serving in the Wyoming House of Representatives, Honaker put his extremist belief that “abortion kills innocent children” into action by twice pushing for legislation that would place a near-total ban on abortion services in the state.

A proposed Wyoming anti-abortion law that Honaker has introduced in his home state more than once would make exceptions only for victims of rape and incest only if reported within five days and for the safety of the mother’s life. According to one Wyoming newspaper, Honaker’s proposed bill would NOT make an exception for the mother’s health, something that Honaker tried pretty unsuccessfully to parse at his recent Senate hearing:

In a second round of questions, [California Senator Dianne] Feinstein noted that [Honaker's] bill included an exemption for the life of the mother but not her health, and said both are required. Honaker responded that in his personal opinion, “health” has not been defined specifically enough.”

Now, I don’t have a problem with anyone’s personal views on abortion. Talk about one of the most personal political issues out there. But since the law of land still is that a woman has a constitutionally protected right to an abortion under many circumstances, I’ve got a little problem with judicial nominees who won’t uphold that and who question whether there are legitimate health reasons that a woman might need one.

I’ve got the same problem with presidential candidates who think they can impose their own personal views on privacy issues by trying to stack the courts with judges and attorneys whose known personal views don’t line up with the privacy protections we legally have.

Reproductive rights champion Gloria Feldt, at The Huffington Post, asks of the presidential candidates:

Will you bring the Federal judiciary into balance by appointing judges who will uphold reproductive rights as human and civil rights under which women are entitled to equal protection? While I’m at it, I’ll ask similar questions of candidates for Congress and state offices.

Honaker’s personal views could well impact his rulings on more than just any abortion cases that might come before him. In a recent Mother Jones article by Stephanie Mencimer, a representative for The Alliance for Justice questioned how Honaker might rule on other privacy issues in light of Honaker’s reported belief that American laws should reflect Christianity:

“What if someone is dismissed from their job for being gay? What if someone sues because their health insurance doesn’t cover contraception?” … Those are exactly the sorts of cases that might come before Honaker … and [Simon Heller of The Alliance of Justice] thinks Honaker’s religious views would make it impossible for him to give such people a fair hearing, whether or not he was a plaintiff lawyer. “It’s not just about abortion.”

It’s fair to say that no one considers the issue of abortion lightly, least of all the women who have to face that choice. But in America, women still do legally have a choice. One way to make sure that our views on women’s reproductive health, whatever they are, are represented is for voters to scrutinize the presidential candidates on the types of judges they will name to the bench.

Judicial appointments are forever. And however we feel about a presidential candidate’s positions on health care, education or the war, all those things can and will be impacted by the judges who have to rule on cases on those subjects — judges and justices who are appointed for life and can’t be removed from the bench.

So when you’re deciding who to vote for in the presidential election this year, think about the types of judges you want to see appointed to the bench. Those judges often having a much greater impact on the laws and policies of this country than the presidents who appoint them.

Cross-posted from BlogHer where PunditMom is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News.

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5 Responses to “Two Words on Women’s Health — Judicial Appointments”

  1. Robert Says:

    I agree that we must carefully consider who the next president might get to appoint to the judiciary. That is one reason I will still vote for the Republican nominee. The courts need to strike down abortion as generally legal and define it as legal to save the life of the mother or in the case of rape or incest. Self defense is a legitimate protection provided for under the law, but abortion has no other logical reason to exist as a right. The law is actually quite duplicitous on this point, as it is presently legal to abort a fetus, but a person murdering a pregnant woman is guilty of two murders. Again, I realize this view is likely very unpopular here, but I still want to point it out. I agree, we must look long and hard at who we vote for because of the likely judiciary appointments. Laws may soon be coming to the US Supreme Court to be evaluated as possible reversals of Roe v. Wade, and it would be better if it were defeated 6-3 instead of 5-4.

    On a more humorous note, I rather enjoyed the movie Definitely Maybe when the father gets to explain to his daughter how children can be an “accident”. Her responses are right on point – “Did they slip and fall on each other?” she asks. Very good movie.

  2. PunditMom Says:

    This is a tough issue and we should consider it carefully. One point — it varies by state whether a person can be charged with two murders by killing a pregnant women. Every state is different and there are actually few that allow that.

    As for logical? Is it logical for the government to be able to tell anyone what they are permitted to do regarding their physical health?

    Clearly there is not going to be agreement on this issue, but I’d still like to know my Constitutional rights are being protected.

  3. Kady Says:

    OMG, you are spot on here. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Bush managed to get so many spots appointed in the SCOTUS during his two terms that none of the seats currently held by conservative justices will be up in the next 8 years (assuming a Democrat wins the Presidential election). Though it will be good to start rejuvenating the lower courts.

  4. Robert Says:

    I disagree that abortion should be a right, except in the case of protecting the mother… which would seem to agree with what you just said. But abortion as birth control is disgusting to me. It is murder by convenience, and that never should be a constitutional right. Otherwise, there would be a lot more “convenient” deaths around. I suppose Hillary has already made use of that clause in some ways, but the average person cannot and does not. Nor should they. You are right, though, I am sure we cannot agree on this matter. I have previously tried to understand – and even thought of myself as someone unwilling to legislate abortion at one point – but in the end, I cannot view the act as anything that ought to be protected except where it protects the mother.

  5. Melissa Says:

    Robert:

    Abortion as birth control is a tragedy but I ask, “Should children be a punishment for irresponsible behavior?”

    For me, a woman having repeated abortions is sign of irresponsibility and/or a of lack of access to reliable contraception. Would these women make good parents? I don’t know, perhaps some would, but I don’t believe the answer is restricting abortion access to test the hypothesis.

    If Roe were overturned tomorrow, it would not outlaw abortion unless the court went so far as to define personhood in its decision, something I seriously doubt.

    Were the states to control abortion law, as they did pre-Roe, we’d likely see a mishmash of restrictions ranging from essentially unavailable (in states like Utah and Mississippi which retain their pre-Roe statutory bans) to restricted to available (in states where the right has been codified under state law, such as in California).

    As an aside, I find it interesting that the states with the most restrictive abortion laws have the worst child welfare assistance laws (see Jean Schroedel _Is the Fetus a Person? A Comparison of Policies in the Fifty States_).


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