The American Bar Association (ABA) has infuriated many of its member attorneys with its official approval of abortion rights and of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

After more than two hours of sharp debate at the organization’s annual winter meeting last month, the ABA’s House of Delegates passed a resolution recognizing “the fundamental rights of privacy and equality guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” and opposing “legislation or other governmental action that interferes with … the decision to terminate the pregnancy at any time before the fetus is capable of independent life.…

The group, which represents some 360,000 lawyers, has taken prochoice stands on individual measures in the past, but this was the first time it has gone on record with regard to the constitutional principles of Roe. A report given to delegates prior to the vote asserted that the resolution was “particularly important in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, and the ensuing efforts by abortion opponents to substantially curtail the scope of the rights originally recognized in Roe.”

Abortion opponents fear the ABA will use the resolution to bolster its political clout in lobbying Congress on abortion legislation and in filing friend-of-the-court briefs before the Supreme Court.

Planned Parenthood president Faye Wattleton, who made remarks during the ABA debate last month, in a statement called it “fitting” that the ABA “has taken a position in support of reproductive choice.”

Not all lawyers agree. “We’re very disappointed that the ABA has gotten involved in a political issue,” said Paige Cunningham of the prolife law firm Americans United for Life. “The ABA membership has never been polled on this.” Cunningham said she recently resigned from ABA because of her increasing discomfort with its activities.

Many attorneys, including those who have not publicly taken a prolife position, believe it is inappropriate for the ABA to venture into the abortion arena. Immediately following the vote, ABA treasurer, Joseph Nolan, announced his resignation.

Other attorneys are also reconsidering their ABA membership, including Robert Showers of the Washington, D.C., law firm Gammon and Grange. “The ramifications of this vote are much wider than the ABA anticipates,” Showers said. “I think the bottom line for most attorneys is, ‘What in the world is the ABA doing giving an unrestricted right to the mother not only to abort her child, but to abort for any reason?’ ”

In assailing the vote, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) called for an end to the Justice Department’s practice of allowing the ABA to screen potential judicial appointments. “The ABA has voted to become just another lobby in support of abortion on demand,” said NRLC legislative director Douglas Johnson. “It is clearly inappropriate that a proabortion advocacy organization should have the unique power to secretly review and veto potential federal judges.”

The issue may not be over yet, however. There has been talk among prolife attorneys about launching a coordinated petition effort to force the ABA to repeal last month’s decision.

By Kim A. Lawton.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.