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Ginsburg ‘model’ justice, Dem. cands. say

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (BP)–The leading Democratic candidates for president said April 26 they opposed the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the ban on partial-birth abortion, with three of them adding that their “model” justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissenting opinion.

Because the 90-minute debate at South Carolina State University involved eight candidates and a host of topics, all of the candidates — including Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) — did not get a chance to comment on the opinion. But two of the leading candidates, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), did. In most polls Clinton is first, Obama second and Edwards third.

Debate moderator Brian Williams noted an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing a majority of Americans supporting the court’s decision and asked, “Is this a case do you think of the Supreme Court and the public with opinions in one place, and yet a lot of elected officials in another?”

“No, I don’t believe it is,” Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president, said. “I would say first that this decision by the Supreme Court is actually a perfect example of what’s at stake in this election. The kind of people that will be appointed to the United States Supreme Court by the next president will control whether a woman’s freedom — a freedom to choose, make her own healthcare decisions — will be made by her or will be made by the government or by some men sitting on the United States Supreme Court.”

The court’s 5-4 decision April 15 upheld a federal ban on a gruesome second- and third-trimester procedure that involves partially delivering a baby feet-first, so that the head remains in the birth canal. The abortion doctor then punctures the skull and suctions out the brains, killing the infant and preventing a live delivery. A nurse who once witnessed such a procedure described seeing the “baby’s little fingers … clasping and unclasping” as it was pulled partially out of the birth canal before finally going “completely limp” after its brain was suctioned.

Williams also asked Obama if the Democratic opinions were going against public opinion.

“I think most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult issue for the women and families who make these decisions,” Obama answered. “They don’t make them casually. And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy…. When you describe a specific procedure that accounts for less than 1 percent of the abortions that take place, then naturally people get concerned, and I think legitimately concerned. But the broader issue here is, do women have the right to make these profoundly difficult decisions, and I trust them to do it.”

Although Clinton didn’t get a chance to address the decision, she criticized it the day it was handed down, calling it a “dramatic departure from four decades of Supreme Court rulings.”

During the debate even U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), who voted for the ban, criticized the “rationale” of the decision and asserted it was “intellectually dishonest.”

“I think it’s a rare procedure that should only be available when the woman’s life and health is at stake,” he said, although the bill he voted for doesn’t make an exception for a woman’s health. “But what this court did is it took that decision and … [laid] the groundwork for undoing Roe v. Wade. That’s the danger of this decision.”

Biden said he believes the U.S. Constitution includes a “right to privacy” that encompasses abortion.

“That’s why I led the fight to defeat [Robert] Bork. Thank God he’s not on the court, or Roe v. Wade would be gone by now,” he said of one of President Reagan’s nominees who was defeated. “That’s why I was so outspoken … in leading the effort to try and defeat [Chief Justice John] Roberts and [Justice Samuel] Alito. That’s why I opposed [Justice Clarence] Thomas on the court.”

Williams also asked the panel to name their “model” Supreme Court Justice. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd said Ginsburg. Edwards said Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer.

In her dissent Ginsburg called the majority opinion “alarming” and described it as “an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court.”

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  • Michael Foust