WASHINGTON --- President Obama said April 21 he won't have a litmus test for his next Supreme Court nominee but strongly hinted he wants the person to uphold Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion.
Obama made the remarks prior to a meeting with bi-partisan members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on the president's pick to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Asked if he would be willing to nominate someone who did not support legalized abortion, Obama restated his pro-choice views.
"I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction. Obviously this has been a hugely contentious issue in our country for a very long time. I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is I don't have litmus tests around any of these issues."
Then he added, "But I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women's rights. And that's going to be something that's very important to me, because I think part of what our core constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity, and women are not exempt from that."
Stevens was one of the court's more liberal members and supported legalized abortion, so Obama's pick -- assuming he or she supports Roe v. Wade -- won't change the court's ideological balance.
Conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru questioned whether Obama was trying to have it both ways. "Bodily integrity," Ponnuru noted, references abortion.
"He may not like the phrase 'litmus test,' but it sure sounds as though that's what he has," Ponnuru wrote at NationalReview.com. "I don't think there's anything wrong with litmus tests in general, although I'd prefer they not require the nominee to support doing violence to the Constitution."
Obama also gave an update on his timeline, saying he will name his nominee by the end of May and perhaps sooner. He noted his last Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, also was nominated at the end of May.
"We are certainly going to meet that deadline and we hope maybe we can accelerate it a little bit so that we have some additional time," he said. "But my hope is that we're going to be able to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed in time for the next session."
The nation has experienced more than 50 million abortions since Roe v. Wade was legalized in 1973. A 2004 Guttmacher study of women who had had abortions showed that 86 percent of abortions were done for convenience. Rape and incest each were cited by less than half of a percent of all women who underwent abortion. Twenty-five percent said they weren't ready for a child, 23 percent said they couldn't afford to have one, 19 percent said they didn't want any more children, 8 percent said they didn't want to be a single mother or they had relationship problems, 7 percent said they were too young to have a child and 4 percent said they believed a child would interfere with their education or career.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.