In addition to his ambiguous record as a lawyer and judge, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts has the benefit of opponents who seem determined to discredit themselves and guarantee his confirmation. This self-destructive impulse is epitomized by NARAL Pro-Choice America's despicable TV ad linking Roberts to "violent fringe groups."
So far the main effect of the ad has been to generate sympathy for Roberts and hostility toward NARAL, even among supporters of abortion rights. The line between fetus and person may be hard to draw, but NARAL's dishonest and dishonorable ad clearly crosses the line between legitimate criticism and reckless slander.
The spot opens with images of the New Woman/All Women Health Clinic in Birmingham after it was attacked by anti-abortion bomber Eric Rudolph in 1998. "I almost lost my life," says clinic nurse Emily Lyons, who was seriously injured in the blast, which killed an off-duty police officer working as a guard.
Then, over a photo of Roberts against a background showing a legal document, the announcer says, "Supreme Court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber." Lyons reappears, saying, "I'm determined to stop this violence, so I'm speaking out." The ad closes with the announcer declaring, "America can't afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans."
NARAL is referring to a 1989 lawsuit in which abortion clinics sought a federal injunction to prevent protesters from trespassing on their property and blocking access to their buildings.
Contrary to the ad's implication, the case had nothing to do with attacks like the one in Birmingham, although one of the protesters had been convicted in 1985 of charges related to abortion clinic bombings.
Nor was the issue in the case whether it was OK for anti-abortion activists to block clinic entrances, a clear violation of state law. The issue was whether the blockades violated federal law -- in particular, an 1871 statute that prohibits conspiracies to deprive "any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws."