Clarence Thomas on Abortion
Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Bush Sr. 1991)
The vote was not a ruling on the legal merits of the restriction, but the decision to keep the law on hold signals that a majority of the justices have doubts about its constitutionality. Passed by the state legislature in 2014, the measure requires any doctor offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Plaintiffs argued that it was identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, in which the court said Texas imposed an obstacle on women seeking access to abortion services without providing them any medical benefits. Plaintiffs said Louisiana's law would leave only one doctor at a single clinic in New Orleans to perform the procedure.
OnTheIssues explanation: The court did not rule against "parental notification" in general; in other words, states can decide if and when a minor girl's parents must be notified. But the court imposed restrictions: if the minor girl's life is in danger, her right to an abortion overrules the state's requirement for parental notification. Justices in the majority agree that the right to an abortion for maternal health is the higher priority (a pro-choice stance); justices in the minority say that parental notification has the higher priority (a pro-life stance).
Opinions: O`Connor wrote majority opinion; all 8 other justices concurred.
JUDGE THOMAS: I have no reason or agenda to prejudge the issue or to predispose to rule one way or the other on the issue of abortion, which is a difficult issue.
METZENBAUM: I am not asking you to prejudge it. You certainly can express an opinion as to whether or not you believe that a woman has a right to choose to terminate her pregnancy without indicating how you expect to vote in any particular case. And I am asking you to do that.
THOMAS: Senator, I think to do that would seriously compromise my ability to sit on a case of that importance and involving that important issue.
JUDGE THOMAS: As a kid we heard the hushed whispers about illegal abortions and individuals performing them in less than safe environments. If a woman is subjected to the agony of an environment like that, on a personal level, certainly, I am very, very pained by that. I think any of us would be. I would not want to see people subjected to torture of that nature. On the question that you asked me, as difficult as it is for me to anticipate or to want to see that kind of illegal activity, I think it would undermine my ability to sit in an impartial way on an important case like that.
THOMAS: The case that I remember being discussed most during law school was Griswold. But I did not spend a lot of time debating all the current cases.
LEAHY: I am sure you are not suggesting that there wasn’t any discussion at any time of Roe v. Wade?
THOMAS: Senator, I cannot remember personally engaging in those discussions.
LEAHY: Have you ever had discussion of Roe v. Wade in the 17 years it has been there?
THOMAS: Only in the most general sense that other individuals express concerns, and you listen and you try to be thoughtful. If you are asking me whether or not I have ever debated the contents of it, that answer to that is no, Senator.
LEAHY: Have you ever stated whether you felt that it was properly decided or not?
THOMAS: I don’t recollect commenting one way or the other. There were, again, debates about it in various places, but I generally did not participate.
JUDGE THOMAS: My view is that there is a right to privacy in the Fourteenth Amendment.
BIDEN: Well, does that right to privacy protect the right of a woman to decide for herself in certain instances whether or not to terminate a pregnancy?
THOMAS: The Supreme Court has made clear that the issue of marital privacy is protected, and in the case of Roe v. Wade has found an interest in the woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. I do not think that at this time that I could maintain my impartiality as a member of the judiciary and comment on that specific case.
BIDEN: [What about your] natural law philosophy [expressed during your tenure in the Reagan Administration]?
THOMAS: What I was looking for were unifying themes in a political standpoint, not a constitutional adjudication standpoint.
JUDGE THOMAS: I think overruling a case or reconsidering a case is a very serious matter. Certainly, you would have to be of the view that a case is incorrectly decided, but I think even that is not adequate. There are some cases that you may not agree with that should not be overruled. Stare decisis provides continuity to our system, it provides predictability, and in our process of case-by-case decision-making, I think it is a very important and critical concept. A judge that wants to reconsider a case and certainly one who wants to overrule a case has the burden of demonstrating that not only is the case indirect, but that it would be appropriate, in view of stare decisis, to make that additional step of overruling that case.
|Other Justices on Abortion:||Clarence Thomas on other issues:|
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(since 1993)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Anthony Kennedy(since 1988)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
Natural Law Platform