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Obama's Nominee for Office of Legal Counsel: Pregnancy is Slavery

Carl Olson

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The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) assists the Attorney General of the United States in his role as legal adviser to the President and all the executive branch agencies. It is sometimes called "the President's law firm." President Obama's nominee for head of OLC is Dawn Johnsen, who served as Acting Assistant Attorney General heading the OLC during the Clinton administration and was, from 1988-1993, the Legal Director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (now NARAL Pro-Choice America).

Needless to say, Johnsen is an ardent supporter of what she calls "reproductive liberty," which is, I'm sure, very similar to what then-Sen. Obama called "reproductive justice," that is, a woman's right to choose abortion. To get a sense of her ardor for abortion, read this January 25, 2006, piece for Slate, in which she laments the closing of abortion mills and restrictions on abortions made by many states:

How precisely does this incremental evisceration of Roe work? State legislatures have enacted literally hundreds of abortion restrictions that fall short of bans, some of which have already been upheld by courts, under the prevailing "undue burden" standard. Such government restrictions, combined with clinic violence and harassment, have drastically reduced the number of abortion providers around the country and have made access to the remaining providers exceedingly difficult for growing numbers of women.

Abortion restrictions often sound superficially reasonable and appealing: They include such benign-sounding requirements as waiting periods, "informed consent," special physical specifications for buildings in which abortions are performed, and special hospital admitting privileges for the physicians who perform them. They are designed to sound reasonable while also limiting the number of abortions performed, ultimately as completely as would a criminal ban.

This passionate paragraph is especially striking:

The notion of legal restrictions as some kind of reasonable "compromise"—perhaps to help make abortion "safe, legal and rare"—thus proves nonsensical. For the woman denied access, the deprivation is absolute: Either a woman can get a safe and legal abortion, or she cannot. For her, a possibly urgently needed abortion is not "rare," it's impossible.

In a March 22, 2008, post, she wrote:

The way to reduce the number of abortions is no secret.  It's by making available contraception and comprehensive sexuality education.  And more than that, by enacting policies that support healthy pregnancies and healthy families.  How about universal health care, or at least an expansion of the CHIP program for kids?  Where is that Republican coalition?

The link within that post is to a January 2008 address by Johnsen, "A Progressive Agenda for Women’s Reproductive Health and Liberty on Roe v. Wade’s Thirty-Fifth Anniversary," given to the The American Constitution Society. She began the address by stating that today "the state of women’s reproductive liberty is at best mixed" and then lamented how "'abstinence only' programs have replaced comprehensive sexuality education." And then:

Perhaps most ominous, over the last decade the anti-abortion movement has made substantial strides in changing the nature of the public discourse. Opposition to abortion since Roe, of course, has been framed largely in terms of the moral and religious imperative of safeguarding the developing embryo and fetus. The interests of pregnant women—their ability to protect their own health and lives, to care for their children, to control their futures—have generally been either ignored or dismissed as secondary to the value of the unborn at all stages of development.

She also outlined some goals and strategies for pro-abortion advocates (note her use of the phrase "deep ideological commitments"):

Progressives should now take the time to take the long view and formulate ambitious goals, informed by deep ideological commitments and not unduly constrained by present realities. In short, progressives should think big in defining objectives and devise effective strategies for moving toward these objectives.

The progressive agenda should aspire to protect genuine reproductive liberty and reproductive health for all. Toward this ideal, I would suggest three shifts in strategic priorities, to augment ongoing efforts to persuade courts to invalidate abortion restrictions. First, focus more on persuading the public to support meaningful reproductive options through political action, grassroots organizing and public education. Second, focus relatively less on the threat of criminal abortion bans that would be enforceable if the Court were to overrule Roe and more on abortion restrictions already in place or on the immediate horizon, obstacles both legislative and extra-legal that cumulatively deprive growing numbers of women of access to abortion services. Finally, situate abortion within the full range of progressive policies essential to genuine reproductive health and liberty, policies that empower women and men to prevent unintended pregnancies and to bear and raise healthy and wanted children.

Be sure to read the entire address, which is twelve pages long, if only to catch the money quote, at the end, made by this well-known promoter of racial eugenics.

This is a somewhat long (but hopefully helpful) introduction to two pieces by Andrew C. McCarthy, a contributing editor of National Review Online. His March 9, 2009, article for National Review, titled "Lawyer’s Lawyer, Radical’s Radical," is must reading, for it reveals just how radical is the woman who could be the head of the "President's law firm":

Yale-educated and ACLU-trained, Johnsen already has done one tour ofduty at OLC. She spent nearly six years there during the Clintonadministration (1993–98), the last two as acting chief. OLC, acritically important agency, is the administration’s lawyers’ lawyer.Staffed by graduates of top law schools who are then polished by elitejudicial clerkships, it authoritatively interprets the law for theattorney general and, in doing so, drives administration legal policy.OLC’s credibility is derived from its reputation for apolitical,academic discipline — its commitment to informing policymakers of whatthe law is, rather than what staffers believe the law should be.Johnsen is, for that reason, a poor fit: She is an ideologue, and anunabashed one.

Her bizarre equation of pregnancy and slavery was not anoff-the-cuff remark. It was her considered position in a 1989 brieffiled in the Supreme Court. At the time, she was legal director ofNARAL (then the National Abortion Rights Action League, since renamedNARAL Pro-Choice America). The case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services,involved a Missouri law that did not ban abortion but restricted theuse of state funds and resources for abortions. It’s an obviousdistinction, but one without a difference — at least according toJohnsen. Any restriction that makes abortion less accessible is, in herview, tantamount to “involuntary servitude” because it “requires awoman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order tofurther the state’s asserted interest [in the life of the unborn].” Ineffect, a woman “is constantly aware for nine months that her body isnot her own: the state has conscripted her body for its own ends.” Such“forced pregnancy,” she contends, violates the Thirteenth Amendment,which prohibits slavery.

McCarthy also wrote a piece, "DOJ Nominee ‘Shocked’ by Her Own Words," posted today on NRO, which reports on Johnsen's Senate confirmation hearing, which took place two days ago:

During questioning by Sen. Arlen Specter, the professor professed to be“shocked” by my contention that she had once analogized pregnancy toinvoluntary servitude, a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment’sprohibition of slavery. I made this contention in a profile of Johnsenfor the current (March 9) issue of National Review, which was posted on NRO on Monday.

I think the shock is on the other foot, for two reasons. First, Johnsen did make this jaw-dropping argument to the Supreme Court. And second,in her hearing testimony, she nevertheless flatly denied making aThirteenth Amendment argument: “This is a brief that I filed arguingthat the right to privacy protects, um, the right of women and theirfamilies to make these choices and that Roe v. Wade should be upheld, which is in 1989. I made no Thirteenth Amendment argument.

Read that piece. Consider that then-Senator Obama said, back in January 2008: "I don't know anyone who is pro-abortion." Perhaps he didn't know Johnsen a year ago. Or perhaps he doesn't think she is "pro-abortion." Or perhaps the two of them share a certain proclivity for denial in the face of evidence and facts.

Read the entire article on the Ignatius Press blog (new window will open).

Posted: 03-Mar-2009

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