From the witness chair, Sandra O’Connor said that about abortion. What will she do about it from the bench? She didn’t say.

In the wake of Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court last month, observers were quick to chalk up a major defeat for the right-to-life movement, which presented her only real opposition. But most prolifers see it differently, including J. C. Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), and a key prolife witness at O’Connor’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. “I think, for the good of the entire movement nationwide, we had an extraordinary opportunity to state our case,” he said.

Frustrated by O’Connor’s steadfast refusal to comment on how she would rule in cases likely to come before the court, prolife activists based their opposition on her voting record in the Arizona legislature, perceived by some to favor abortion. Right-to-lifers drew a parallel with the Supreme Court nomination of G. Harold Carswell in 1970, who was rejected because 22 years earlier he supported racial segregation.

In testimony lasting more than two hours, Willke and past NRLC president Carolyn Gerster framed their position in civil-rights terminology and sought to present it as more than just a single issue. Rather, they viewed it as concern for the handicapped and the elderly as well as the unborn. Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kans.) disagreed that abortion should be a disqualifying issue, and he pointedly asked Willke and Gerster where they were six years ago when confirmation hearings were held for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Gerster, a cardiologist from Phoenix and a neighbor of the O’Connors, replied that abortion became a litmus test “because of the assurance ...

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