Miers' views on self-determination worry some conservatives

WASHINGTON (BP)--News that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers once embraced the concept of "self-determination" -- a phrase often trumpeted by abortion rights groups -- has conservative groups that already were worried about her nomination even more concerned.

As first reported by The Washington Post Oct. 26, Miers gave a speech to a Dallas women's group in 1993 in which she touched on a host of hot-button issues of that time, including abortion and religion's role in society.

"The law and religion make for interesting mixture but the mixture tends to invoke the strongest of emotions," she said in her speech, according to a copy posted on the newspaper's website. "The underlying theme in most of these cases is the insistence of more self-determination. And the more I think about these issues, the more self-determination makes the most sense."

Miers' remarks about self-determination came immediately after she referred to several instances where law and religion mix, including the attempt in America "to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual women's [sic] right to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion." Miers also said "abortion clinic protesters have become synonymous with terrorists and the courts have been the refuge for the besieged."

Miers further said America "gave up ... a long time ago" on "legislating religion or morality."

The speech left some social conservatives puzzled. Just one week earlier, some of them were gleeful when it was revealed Miers received a perfect pro-life score on a questionnaire she filled out in 1989 while running for Dallas City Council. On that questionnaire, she pledged support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning abortion. In addition, Miers has been a member of a Texas pro-life church for years, and some of her friends -- including Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht -- have said she is personally pro-life.

The "self-determination" language is often used by such pro-choice groups as Planned Parenthood in referring to a woman's ability to "determine" whether to have an abortion.

"It's just troubling. It does suggest that she's a moderate," Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life Coalition, told Baptist Press. "... No one has the right to decide who lives or dies absent a trial."

Wright added that she "wants to hear what [Miers] has to say" regarding her views on self-determination. But Wright also said Miers' views on "legislating morality" also were off-target.

"That is very shocking, because every law legislates morality -- every law," Wright said. "Again, it suggests that she's a little bit all over the map, that she's not as grounded as we need a Supreme Court justice to be."

Miers' speech to the group came one year after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upholding legalized abortion.

"This is going to be very disturbing to conservatives because I think it shows that she is a judicial activist," Mathew D. Staver, president of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, told The Washington Post. "This concept of self-determination could clearly be read in support for things like abortion or same-sex marriage, and it's a philosophy that cuts a judge loose from the Constitution."

Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told The Post that "self-determination" is a key concept in the abortion rights movement. NARAL was formerly known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

"If you take what she said at face value, you would conclude that she recognizes the right of a woman to choose an abortion as a matter of self-determination," Michelman said. "She seems to be a woman who over time is pulled in different directions, as many of us are, as she searched for answers."

Wright, of the Texans for Life Coalition, said Miers' comments about abortion clinic protesters must be understood in context.

"Operation Rescue was just so militant here," Wright said. "There were doctors besieged in their homes.... The picketing went way beyond the pale, and there were lawsuits. [Abortion protesters] were following [doctor's] children and calling their children at home. This was all over the press, and it hurt our cause terribly."

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