WASHINGTON — The head of a prominent abortion rights organization on Thursday predicted a Senate filibuster if President Bush seeks to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy with a nominee who does not clearly support the court's 1973 ruling on the issue.
"The burden of proof is on any nominee," said Kate Michelman, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "It's the burden of that nominee to address constitutional freedoms and whether they indeed believe the court was right in recognizing a woman's right to choose."
"I fully expect that pro-choice senators will conduct a filibuster against any Supreme Court nominee" that does not express support for abortion rights, she added in an interview.
The White House declined comment on Michelman's remarks.
A spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said the South Dakota lawmaker "feels it's vital that all judicial nominees be willing to faithfully respect the Constitution. That said, he will make a judgment on each individual case as it is presented to him."
Michelman made her comments several days before the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed women the right to an abortion. Supporters of the opinion, as well as groups that hope to have it overturned in a future ruling, have scheduled a series of events to mark the date.
Groups opposed to abortion will hold their annual march in Washington on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the ruling, ending at the Supreme Court building. In addition, the GOP-controlled Congress is expected to vote in the coming months on legislation to ban one type of abortions, typically performed late in a woman's pregnancy.
Congress has twice passed legislation covering the procedure, in which the fetus is partially delivered before its skull is punctured, but former President Clinton vetoed it both times. Bush has said he would sign it.
NARAL will hold a fund-raising dinner on Tuesday night, and all six announced Democratic presidential contenders are expected to speak. In addition, the group will start a political campaign next week to seek passage of abortion rights legislation in Congress.
With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, prospects for passage of such legislation are dim. Additionally, NARAL backed several Democratic Senate candidates who lost to GOP contenders last November. Thus supporters of abortion rights are likely to find themselves trying to fend off attempts by opponents and the Bush administration to curtail the ability of women to end their pregnancies.
Those struggles are likely to include judicial confirmation battles in the Senate, particularly if there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Retirements are rarely announced in advance. But speculation, never in short supply, has increased since last fall's elections, when Republicans gained control of the Senate.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, for example, is 78, and missed December arguments at the court because of leg surgery. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative, is 72. She and the chief justice were both appointed by Republican presidents.