Speaking with a confident Texas lilt throughout much of this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Priscilla Owen wavered uncharacteristically as she responded to questions from Senate Democrats about her stance on abortion rights. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who led the hearing, raised issue with Owen’s use of religious considerations as a condition for a teenager seeking judicial bypass of a parental consent for an abortion – a stark example of Owen’s judicial activism during her tenure on the Texas Supreme Court. While Owen claimed that she listed considerations that she interpreted from United States Supreme Court cases, religion has never been a part of the high court’s equation for abortion. “I am deeply concerned,” Feinstein said, as reported in the Austin American Statesman. “You’ve looked in other places to find a rationale not to do what Texas law called for. Maybe this is what being an activist means. You worked to come out where you came out.”
Owen was nominated by President Bush in May 2001 – another nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Charles Pickering, was defeated for his conservative anti-abortion, anti-women’s rights views last spring. Owen has been called too ideologically far to the right by even her conservative colleagues -White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who served with Owen on the Texas court, characterized one of her opinions on judicial bypass as “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.”
As a member of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Owen could substantially increase regulations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas for women seeking abortions. Expressing concerns that she could seriously jeopardize a women’s right to choose, the National Abortion Federation and People for the American Way join the Feminist Majority in opposing Owen. The National Abortion and Reproductive Action League (NARAL), National Organization for Women (NOW) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have also expressed concerns about Owen’s record on reproductive rights.