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Ramping up views on Alito nomination

Instead of its usual Sunday matinee, the Cable Car Cinema showed Voices of Choice: Physicians Who Provided Abortions Before Roe v. Wade this past weekend. Some 75 pro-choice Rhode Islanders gathered for the film and an ensuing discussion. Hearing the stories of these physicians is particularly important, says Melissa Conroy of the Attleboro-based Womenís Health and Education Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts (one of the eventís co-sponsors), because, "A lot of women who were born after Roe take it for granted that they have abortion access and abortion rights. And that is a danger."

This danger feels particularly acute for pro-choice groups because of President Bushís nomination of Samuel Alito to replace retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day OíConnor. A longtime conservative and opponent of Roe v. Wade, Alito has publicly insisted thus far that his personal views on abortion would not influence his judicial rulings, but the crowd at the Cable Car, for one, wasnít buying it.

Sundayís event was one example of local efforts to mobilize opposition in the run-up to Alitoís confirmation hearings, slated to begin in January. Rhode Islanders for a Fair Judiciary (www.rifj.org) is a coalition of 18 progressive groups opposed to the nomination. According to RIFJís Marti Rosenberg, the group seeks to educate Rhode Islanders about Alito, and to encourage "grassroots communication with senators," particularly in the form of postcard signings. The group holds periodic trainings in which it teach all comers how best to mobilize their friends and family, and how to maximize the number of postcards signed. Rosenberg estimates that "hundreds and hundreds" of postcards have been sent so far.

Alitoís proponents, meanwhile, have assembled under the banner of Rhode Islanders for Judge Alito, an ad hoc coalition that is part of the conservative organization Progress for America. Rather than citing Alitoís strengths, however, the group speaks of the need for an "up or down vote." That is, supporters are out to "make sure that judicial nominees donít get filibustered," says David Darlington, whose PR firm represents Progress for America.

For their part, Rhode Islandís senators are reserving judgment. Spokesmen for Jack Reed and Lincoln Chafee say the senators will wait until the confirmation hearings to decide how they will vote. (Of the contentious filibuster, Reed spokesman Greg McCarthy says, "Heís not opposed to it.") Chafee is a particular target for both sides, because he is up for re-election next year, and since, as a pro-choice Republican getting support from the White House, his vote is anyoneís guess. The senator angered pro-choice supporters by voting to confirm Bushís last Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts.

Chafee spokesman Stephen Hourahan says the senatorís office has received some calls from constituents on both sides of the issue, "[But] as far as a great outpouring, we havenít had that yet." His advice to groups on both sides is, "If you wanted to really make an impact, you could get an auto-dialer and start calling the senatorís office."

Issue Date: December 9 - 15, 2005
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