The main topic at the annual convention of the National Abortion Rights Action League this weekend was scheduled to be the effort to restore public funding for abortions. But when members of the nation's largest abortion-rights lobby gathered here yesterday the focus was blocking confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.
Kata Michelman, the group's director, said the convention is taking place during a "state of emergency" because of the nomination last week of U.S. Appeals Court Judge Bork, who has assailed Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that there is a constitutional right to abortion, as "an unconstitutional decision."
The convention will devote much of its time to developing strategies to get enough votes in the Senate to stop the nomination. Last night, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) told the meeting that if he concludes "that there is any possiblity that he will overturn Roe v. Wade, I will not only oppose him . . . I will lead a filibuster to try to stop him."
Bork's confirmation would further erode the 7-to-2 majority in that case. Bork would replace Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who last year voted with a 5-to-4 majority to reaffirm Roe.
Since the original decision, Justice Potter Stewart, who was in the Roe majority, has been replaced by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. O'Connor voted in two major cases to uphold state restrictions on abortion and has criticized the Roe ruling, but she has not said she would vote to overturn it.
In addition, the retirement of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who voted with the majority, made way for Justice Antonin Scalia, who has also criticized the decision.
"It's clear to me if Bork is on the court that the threat for Roe to be overturned is significantly greater," Michelman said. "There are two ways that legalized abortion and reproductive rights can be undermined. Roe can be overturned, and then it goes back to the states and legalized abortion being left to the vagaries of state legislatures, or they can use any abortion-related case that comes before them to chip away at the rights . . . . Basically, what they can do is make the right a theoretical right and not an actual right in reality."
Bork's nomination has not only made the abortion issue a major focus of the confirmation battle, but has also pushed the issue into the limelight in the 1988 presidential election. "The Bork nomination did what we could not do, and that is to raise abortion to the top of the national agenda," said NARAL spokesman Richard Mintz.
NARAL is not the only group that plans to try to use its clout to persuade senators and presidential candidates to oppose Bork.
The National Womens' Political Caucus, which attacked the Bork nomination as "a slap in the face to countless women," is asking its 77,000 members to send telegrams to their senators urging them to fight Bork.
The nomination, said NWPC Chair Irene Natividad, "has put some of the presidential candidates more on notice in terms of choice. Whereas prior to this there has been either a shying away from the issue or somehow a qualifying statement of support, what this nomination does is obviously demand a clarified position from each of them."
"We intend for the Doles of this world to hear about it," said National Organization for Women President Eleanor Smeal, referring to Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). "He wants to be elected president; he's got to hear about how unpopular this issue is."
Anti-abortion groups have so far been less active in mounting support for Bork, but conservative organizations that back his stance on abortion have launched lobbying efforts. And, said Michelman, "I can't imagine that they will not be as determined to support Bork's nomination as we are determined to defeat his nomination. They see this as their last gasp."