John Roberts on Abortion

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. George W. Bush 2005)


Unconstitutional to require hospital nearby abortion service

The Supreme Court blocked Louisiana from enforcing a law that women's groups said would leave only a single doctor legally allowed to perform abortions in the state. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court's liberal members in a 5-4 vote.

The vote signals that a majority of the justices have doubts about the constitutionality of the Louisiana law, which requires any doctor offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Opponents argued that it was identical to a Texas law struck down in 2016, in a case called Whole Women's Health, where the Court rules that requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges was medically unnecessary. It was the most important abortion ruling in 25 years and blocked similar restrictions in AL, MS, OK, TN, and WI. Roberts was among the dissenters when the court struck down the Texas law. But the court ruled that it was unconstitutional, and his vote now was consistent with that holding.

Source: NBC News on 2019 SCOTUS case: "June Medical vs. Louisiana" , Feb 7, 2019

Constitutional privacy protection is only a so-called right

In 2005, Bush appointed a federal appellate judge, John Roberts. The Roberts confirmation gave Biden more public visibility when Bush's nomination came before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden let Roberts know where he was coming from. "Judge, if I look only at what you have said and written, I would have to vote no. You dismissed the constitutional protection to privacy as 'a so-called right.' You derided agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission as 'constitutional anomalies.' And you dismissed gender discrimination as 'merely a perceived problem.' Judge, explain what you meant by what you have said and what you have written." Biden finally got Roberts to say he did agree there was "a right to privacy to be found in the Libert Clause of the 14th Amendment," and one that "extends to women." Well, what about abortion? Biden asked. Roberts replied: "Well that is in an area where I think I should not respond"--a matter that might come before him for ruling on the Supreme Court.
Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.364-368 , Oct 5, 2010

Roe v. Wade is more than settled as precedent

SEN. SPECTER [as read into the record by Sen. Feinstein]: “Judge Roberts, in your confirmation hearing for the circuit court you testified: ‘Roe is the settled law of the land.’ Do you mean settled for you, settled only for your capacity as a circuit judge, or settled beyond that?”

ROBERTS: “Well, beyond that. It’s settled as a precedent of the court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis. And those principles, applied in the Casey case, explain when cases should be revisited and when they should not. And it is settled as a precedent of the court, yes.“

SPECTER: ”You went on to say then, ‘It’s a little more than settled. It was reaffirmed in the face of a challenge that it should be overruled in the Casey decision, so it has added precedental value.’“

ROBERTS: ”I think the initial question for the judge confronting an issue in this area, you don’t go straight to the Roe decision. You begin with Casey, which modified the Roe framework and reaffirmed its central holding.“

Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 11, 2006

Wife is strongly pro-life

While Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ views on abortion triggered intense debate on Capitol Hill, there is no mistaking where his wife stands: Jane Sullivan Roberts, a lawyer, is ardently against abortion.

A Roman Catholic like her husband, Jane Roberts has been deeply involved in the antiabortion movement. She provides her name, money and professional advice to a small Washington organization-Feminists for Life of America-that offers counseling and educational programs. The group has filed legal briefs before the high court challenging the constitutionality of abortion.

A spouse’s views normally are not considered relevant in weighing someone’s job suitability. But abortion is likely to figure prominently in the Senate debate over John Roberts’ nomination. And with his position on the issue unclear, abortion rights supporters expressed concern that his wife’s views might suggest he also embraced efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Jane Roberts declined to comment for this article.

Source: Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times , Jul 21, 2005

Finds no support for abortion rights in Constitution

Judge Roberts’ public positions on abortion and Roe vs. Wade appear to be inconsistent. In 1990, as the principal deputy solicitor general in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, Roberts wrote a legal brief for the Supreme Court in a case regarding federal funding for abortion providers. “We continue to believe that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled,” Roberts wrote. His brief added: “The Supreme Court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution.“

But during the 2003 Senate confirmation hearings on his appellate court nomination, Roberts took the position that abortion rights were no longer debatable. ”Roe vs. Wade is the settled law of the land,“ he told lawmakers. ”There’s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent.“ But abortion rights groups are convinced that Roberts is opposed to abortion.

Source: Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times , Jul 21, 2005

Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided

As a lawyer in the administration of President Bush’s father, he helped write a Supreme Court brief that said, “We continue to believe that Roe (v. Wade) was wrongly decided and should be overruled.”
Source: The Associated Press , Jul 19, 2005

Prohibit family-planning programs from giving abortion info

In Rust v. Sullivan, the then-deputy solicitor general coauthored a brief in support of regulations prohibiting US family planning programs, which get federal aid, from giving any abortion-related counseling. In that brief, he wrote: “We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled. The Court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion finds no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution.” The court upheld those regulations.
Source: Slate.com , Jul 19, 2005

Ok for Operation Rescue to target abortion clinics

In a case involving the Operation Rescue, Roberts coauthored the government’s amicus brief supporting the group’s right to target clinics, under the First Amendment, arguing that Operation Rescue was not engaged in a conspiracy to deny women equal protection.
Source: Slate.com , Jul 19, 2005

Roe v. Wade is settled law

In his confirmation hearing in 2003 to the appeals court, when asked about abortion, Roberts said that the Supreme Court was clear on the matter, and he could uphold it: “Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land,” he said. “There’s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent.” Whether as a member of the court he would try to change that law remains to be seen.
Source: Slate.com , Jul 19, 2005

Doctors who get federal fund may not mention abortion

For Bush Senior, Roberts successfully helped argue that doctors and clinics receiving federal funds may not talk to patients about abortion. (Rust v. Sullivan, 1991)
Source: Emily Bazelon and David Newman, Slate.com , Jul 1, 2005

Limit funding for abortion clinics

He also took strongly anti-choice positions in two Supreme Court cases, one that severely restricted the ability of poor women to gain information about abortion services, and another that took away a key means for women and clinics to combat anti-abortion zealots.
Source: Report of the Alliance for Justice , Feb 1, 2003

Other Justices on Abortion: John Roberts on other issues:
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Amy Coney Barrett(since 2020)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Neil Gorsuch(since 2017)
Ketanji Brown Jackson(nominated 2022)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Brett Kavanaugh(since 2018)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)

Former Justices:
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(1993-2020)
Anthony Kennedy(1988-2018)
Antonin Scalia(1986-2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
David Souter(1990-2009)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
William Rehnquist(1975-2005)

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Page last updated: Mar 21, 2022