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Burden of Proof

Roe V. Wade Anniversary: Activists On Both Sides Continue to Demonstrate Positions on Landmark Decision

Aired January 22, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: It was 28 years ago today that the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Norma McCorvey, known in court papers as Jane Roe. The ruling in Roe v. Wade allowed women in the United States to legally obtain abortions.

A quarter century later, activists from both sides are still demonstrating their positions in this controversial case, and after less than 48 hours in office, there are indications that the Bush administration may attempt to dismantle some remnants of the Clinton era, including, in the potential presidential firing line, federal funding for abortion, counseling, and the approval of the morning- after pill, RU-486.

Joining us today from New York is Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood. From Chicago, we're joined by law professor Steve Lubet. Joining us from March for Life protest at the Washington monument, Ann Scheidler. And here in our studio, Laura Custer (ph), Carol Long Tobias with the National Right to Life, and Elizabeth Burke (ph). In the back, Josh Speerstra (ph) and Jennifer Berg (ph).

I want to go right to you, Ann. Tell us where you are and tell us what you're doing today.

ANN SCHEIDLER, PRO-LIFE ACTION LEAGUE: I'm standing on the Mall at the Washington Monument, getting ready for the March for Life and on up to the Constitution and the Supreme Court.

COSSACK: Now, how many people are demonstrating with you today, tell us what the march is going to do, and what are you attempting -- what message are you attempting to get out?

SCHEIDLER: I actually haven't heard any numbers as far as number of people, but it looks like a huge crowd to me. And the message is that the human life is our ultimate value and that we have to be out there getting that message out -- that there is nothing more precious than human life, and there's never an occasion that justifies the taking of that human life. We'll take that message to our congressmen and we'll take that message to the steps of the Supreme Court.

COSSACK: Ann, last year was not a great legal year for your side. Do you expect to get more favorable treatment from the Bush administration than you did from the Clinton administration? SCHEIDLER: We do expect to, yes, because we know that the president is a pro-life president, we know that the people that he is going to put in key positions have that respect for human life, and we expect that we'll make some great strides in the next two to four years, very definitely, with friends in Washington, D.C.

COSSACK: But yet it's been reported that the president's wife, Laura Bush, said, over the weekend on one the talk shows that she believed that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.

SCHEIDLER: I did hear that -- I haven't actually read the context of what it was that she said. I know that President Bush feels that the time is not quite right yet to get for a complete reversal, but we know that it will be if we do our work.

We need conversion, number one, because people need to understand the importance of this issue. We know that our opponents are scared to death that they're going to lose the right to abortion. And they're not going to say that word. They talk about women's right to choose, a woman's reproductive right, but what that boils down to is a dead baby every time that choice is made, and that's not acceptable.

COSSACK: But yet a majority of the American population seems to disagree with you.

SCHEIDLER: Oh, no, absolutely not. In the latest polls, 51 percent of the American people call abortion murder or manslaughter, and when you get to specific reasons for abortion, almost everyone is opposed to abortion for a lot of reasons, like convenience or sex of the child. There are very few instances in which the vast majority of people will say that abortion should be allowed.

COSSACK: All right, thank you for joining us.

Let's go now to New York to Gloria Feldt from Planned Parenthood.

Gloria, you heard what Ann said, in terms of the statistics of the population disagreeing with pro-choice, that Ann's position that the population agrees with the -- with her side. Do you agree with that?

GLORIA FELDT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Well, the one thing I agree with her on is that the right to choose, this fundamental human and civil right to decide for ourselves without government interference whether and when we will have a child -- and that's what Roe v. Wade is about -- is more endangered today than it has been at any time in the last 28 years of its existence. So I think we in agreement about that and that we will be seeing many assaults to the right to choose from the Bush administration.

But beyond that, we have disagreement. The fact of the matter is when you ask Americans who do you think ought to be able to make these personal and private childbearing decisions, they will almost inevitably say oh, it shouldn't be the government, it should be me, it should be me, myself, or the woman in consultation with whomever she decides to consult -- but we know it shouldn't be the government; we don't think abortion should be outlawed at all.

And I think that Laura Bush was just exercising some good sense, basic respect, perhaps, for the moral autonomy of women, when she said she didn't think Roe should be overturned, but unfortunately, Laura Bush isn't signing or vetoing laws, or issuing execute orders, or appointing people to Cabinet positions -- George W. Bush is, and he's the person we have to contend with, and he is 100 percent anti-choice.

COSSACK: Carol, the issue is framed by the two guests that we've just heard. One is an issue of -- excuse me now, we're going to go to the Rae Carruth trial, which is in progress.

(INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

COSSACK: But on BURDEN OF PROOF, let's take a break. And when we come back, more on Roe v. Wade on this anniversary date. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: On this day in 1973, the United States Supreme court ruled on the case of Roe v. Wade by the close margin of 5-4. Now, 28 years later, the nation seems just as divided on the issue of abortion.

Carol, I want to talk to you. You've heard two of our guests, previous guests. And they each characterized the debate in an interesting way, with Gloria saying, well, gee, we both agreed that the government shouldn't be involved in this. It should be a woman's decision.

But do you agree with it that way?

CAROL LONG TOBIAS, NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE CMTE.: The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens.

An unborn child is a member of the human race. We believe that the government should be protecting that child, and that its laws should go back to -- previously to 1973, when all of the states protected unborn children.

We think that the culture of life needs to come forward in this country, not just on abortion but for those who are disabled, for those who are elderly, those who need medical care.

Life is just not being held in very high esteem these days. And we think that needs to change.

COSSACK: Gloria, the decision on Roe versus Wade was grounded on a finding by the United States Supreme Court of the right to privacy that was inherent within the Constitution. Obviously, that right to privacy is something most Americans cherish.

To overturn Roe versus Wade, would that require necessarily a finding that that right to privacy was not in the constitution? TOBIAS: I think if you take an honest reading of the Constitution, you will find that the right to kill unborn children does not exist.

The Supreme Court in 1973 was making law. They were not interpreting the Constitution. And they overturned the laws in 50 states.

And I certainly hope that one day soon, we will be able to again protect those children.

COSSACK: Does your argument rest deadlock on the -- on the finding that once a -- once a pregnancy is completed, once there is a finding of a pregnancy, that there is an unborn child? If there was a decision that the child -- or that there was -- there was a decision that a child until a certain time was not a life, would then your argument crumble?

TOBIAS: I don't think that will ever happen. You've got medical and science technology showing that from the moment of conception, you have a unique individual, someone whose fingerprints, whose hair coloring, whose blood type is going to be completely different, or could be completely different from that of his or her mother.

We have another unique individual here. And we believe that it is wrong to take that life.

COSSACK: All right, joining us now from Northwestern is constitutional law professor Steve Lubet.

Steve, help us out on the -- on what's going to happen if -- with the Supreme Court. Now, we know Roe versus Wade was decide on a 5-4 decision. But subsequent to that, there have been decisions having to do with state cases that have been 6-3.

Where is the Supreme Court? Is it likely that Roe versus Wade will be overturned?

STEVE LUBET, LAW PROFESSOR: Well, the current lineup, if one wanted to predict on the Supreme Court, is 6-3.

That means that President Bush, if he were inclined to appoint justices, who were in turn inclined to reverse Roe versus Wade, would need two appointments. And it couldn't be either of the conservative three, Rehnquist, Thomas or Scalia, whom he was replacing.

So the short-term likelihood of a new court that would overrule Roe versus Wade is actually not very great.

COSSACK: Now, what about the chipping-away, if you will, of Roe versus Wade? What about the notion that, well, perhaps, I'm against Roe versus Wade. And I look around, and I say, you know, my tactic really isn't to try to get Roe versus Wade overturned. But perhaps, my best tactic is to sort of chip away with it through state decisions.

Is that a tactic that's going to be better for people who are against Roe versus Wade?

LUBET: I would guess that that's actually going to happen.

For example, President Bush says he will sign the so-called partial-birth abortion law that President Clinton vetoed. And I think chances are, at least even, that there will be an extra vote or two to uphold that in the Supreme Court, coming either from Justice O'Connor or Justice Kennedy.

COSSACK: Why would you think that O'Connor and Kennedy would be -- would be willing to do that? Hasn't sort of the keystone been the notion of the mother's health and the well-being of the mother? Something that these two seem to be really in favor of?

LUBET: Well, they seem to be in favor of that.

On the other hand, I think they've also said that reasonable restrictions, or what they see as reasonable restrictions on abortion, would be constitutionally permissible, even if it is not necessarily a good idea.

And that's the room in which this debate is going to play out in the court, at least for the next couple of years.

COSSACK: Carol, do you expect any help from Attorney General- nominee John Ashcroft in your -- in your attempts to overturn Roe versus Wade?

TOBIAS: Well, of course, John Ashcroft has a strong pro-life record as attorney general in Missouri, then as governor, and as senator.

It's a very important position for us. There are a lot of ways that the Justice Department can influence pro -- our public policy. And having a pro-lifer in that position is, of course, very important.

COSSACK: Now, what ways could they influence? Senator Ashcroft has said that he may not agree with Roe versus Wade. But he said it -- in his words, it's a settled law, and he would go ahead and enforce the law.

So what ways could the -- could the attorney general or the Justice Department help your side?

TOBIAS: Well, certainly, Senator Ashcroft is going to enforce the law. That will be his job as the attorney general.

But President Bush has said that he wants to promote a culture of life in this country. And I think in various ways, members of the administration, as well as certain members of Congress, and quite frankly, the public at large, can do that in a lot of different ways, just talking about respect for human life, maybe putting forward some proposals. We understand that President Bush may be putting the Mexico City policy back into force.

So there are -- there are different ways that the various members of the administration will be able to help.

COSSACK: Gloria, when you hear the phrase "culture of life," being a woman who, for short, will be called pro-choice, is that something that bothers your side?

FELDT: Oh, it's so -- you know, it's -- it's so demeaning to women. It's as though women have no brains and no hearts and no consciences, and can't have moral autonomy -- excuse me -- to have the good sense to be able to understand what's happening with our own bodies, and to make responsible choices for ourselves.

But if I may, I'd like to address your question about John Ashcroft a little bit further, and take it a little further than Ann has.

I think she has acknowledged that if Ashcroft is confirmed as U.S. attorney general, that he will stay with his current convictions. His convictions are that he has always said the most important thing for him in his entire political career would be to outlaw abortion. And although in his confirmation hearings he has said he would uphold the law, the fact of the matter is that he has already gone on record as testifying that any number of -- I think about 18 different restrictions that were in a bill that he had proposed or testified for in Congress would restrict access to abortion to such an extent that virtually no one would be able to get a legal abortion. And yet he saw that as being within the purview of Roe v. Wade.

So I think two things about John Ashcroft. One is that he might say he would uphold the law, but what he would really be doing is interpreting Roe in such a way that virtually no woman would have the right to choose. It would be an empty shell.

COSSACK: All right, Gloria...

FELDT: And secondly...

COSSACK: ... unfortunately, I have to ask you -- let me ask you to hold secondly for a moment because I have to take a break.

FELDT: OK.

COSSACK: Up next, the impact of the Bush administration. What changes in abortion policy may take place right now? Don't go away.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Why is the federal appeals court in New Orleans hearing arguments today in a 17-year-old death sentence case?

A: The court is considering whether to order a new murder trial for the defendant because his attorney often slept during the original trial.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: We're back with more on BURDEN OF PROOF, talking about the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Let's hear a statement, a letter actually, that was written by President George Bush to the demonstrators, read by Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: "We share a great goal, to work toward a day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law."

(APPLAUSE)

President Bush goes on to write, "We know this will not come easily or all at once, but the goal leads us onward to build a culture of life, affirming that every person at every stage and season of life is created equal in God's image."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: That was -- that just occurred just a few seconds ago at the demonstration. That was a letter from President George Bush. That was read by Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican of New Jersey.

Gloria, you heard again that phrase "culture of life." I wanted to let you finish up on what you were just saying, and then I want to give Carol a chance to respond. Go ahead.

FELDT: Well, secondly, I was talking about the things that John Ashcroft would and could do. And I had just spoken about the fact that he may say he's enforcing the law, but he's really eviscerating what Roe v. Wade is all about, which is that it gives precedent, of course, to a woman's life, and a woman's life in the fullest sense.

You know, women don't have abortions because they don't love children, women only choose to have abortions because they love children enough that they want to be able to care for the children they have. And that's why every American who is concerned about the government and the Bush administration taking away this fundamental human and civil right to decide for ourselves whether and when to have a child needs to take action right now, by talking to their senators, by writing to President Bush, by asking him not to do this, by going to RoevBush.com and taking action. This is a very serious threat to what...

COSSACK: All right, Gloria...

FELDT: ... most Americans have come to understand as their fundamental right.

COSSACK: Gloria, let me give carol a chance to respond.

Let me ask you this: Is there any way to reconcile this -- what would be Gloria's claim that this is an issue about women who perhaps love their children and have the right to decide what happens to their body versus your position of, look, this is about unborn human life? Is there any way to reconcile those two issues?

TOBIAS: What we do know, that 93 to 95 percent of all abortion are performed in this country for the same reasons that a woman or a couple would use some type of birth control. Either the woman decides she's too old, she's too young, she doesn't want the child to interfere with her career or with her education. And so abortion has become a method of birth control in this country. And overwhelming majorities in this country are opposed to those types of abortion procedures.

COSSACK: I'm sorry, I have to interrupt you.

Let's go back to Charlotte for some post-Carruth press conferences, a discussion of his sentencing today. We go there now.

(INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

COSSACK: That's all for BURDEN OF PROOF today. "CNN TODAY" is next. We'll see you tomorrow on BURDEN OF PROOF.

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