Under pressure from conservative groups and some abortion rights advocates, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America announced last night that the organization will pull a controversial ad attacking Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. and replace it with a new commercial looking more broadly at Roberts's record.
The decision came after days of criticism that the ad was a flagrant distortion of the record, and hours after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a supporter of abortion rights, urged the group in a letter to cancel the ad. He called it "blatantly untrue" and said that by running it, NARAL "undercuts its credibility and injures the pro-choice cause."
In a response to Specter, NARAL President Nancy Keenan reiterated the group's opposition to Roberts's confirmation and said she regretted that the ad had been misconstrued. "Unfortunately, the debate over that advertisement has become a distraction from the serious discussion we hoped to have with the American public," she said.
The ad in question included video of an abortion clinic bombing in Alabama in 1998 and accused Roberts of siding with violent fringe groups and a clinic bomber in a 1993 Supreme Court case, Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic. It concluded by saying there is no place on the high court for someone who excused violence against other Americans.
The court case, however, involved the question of whether a 19th-century anti-Ku Klux Klan statute could be used to halt disruptive demonstrations aimed at blocking entrances at abortion clinics.
In his oral argument before the court, which he made as deputy solicitor general in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Roberts said the government was not defending the actions of the protesters but said the law was not intended to apply to such cases. The Supreme Court later agreed with Roberts's argument in a 6 to 3 decision.
Roberts also wrote a memo while in the Reagan administration saying those who use violence against clinics should be fully prosecuted.
Few Democrats had rushed to defend the ad. Spokeswomen for Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) all said yesterday that the respective Democrats had not seen the ad.
"We would have done the ad differently," DNC Communications Director Karen Finney said, adding that the case raised legitimate questions that Roberts should answer at his confirmation hearings next month.
Before deciding to pull the ad, Keenan had defended it as "accurate" and "tough." A NARAL spokesman said it will remain on the air for another day or more until the substitute ad is produced and made available.