While Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.'s views on abortion triggered intense debate on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, 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 Wednesday that his wife’s views might suggest he also embraced efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
“It’s unclear how all this will affect her husband,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a spokeswoman with the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy group. “It’s possible that he would have a different view than her. It’s just that in the absence of information about this guy, people are looking at her and trying to read the tea leaves.”
Asked to discuss her role with Feminists for Life, Jane Roberts said in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times: “Thanks for your inquiry. At this time, however, I would like to decline your invitation to talk.”
Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue were reacting strongly Wednesday to President Bush’s first Supreme Court nomination.
The president of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue, Troy Newman, said: “We pray that Roberts will be swiftly confirmed.”
The president of the National Organization for Women, Kim Gandy, warned that of the high court candidates considered by Bush, Roberts was one of the most extreme when it came to the question of overturning the Roe vs. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.
Feminists for Life has sponsored a national advertising campaign aimed at ending abortion in America. One of its mission statements proclaims: “Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion.”
Jane Roberts was a volunteer member of Feminists for Life’s board of directors from 1995 to 1999. She has provided legal assistance to the group and been recognized as a contributor who donated from $1,000 to $2,500.
The president of Feminists for Life, Serrin M. Foster, said Roberts maintained her ties by advising the group on how to draw up incorporation and not-for-profit papers.
She also has written for the group’s newsletter, Foster said, including an article about adoption. Roberts and her husband have adopted two children.
“She’s a brilliant attorney, and we’re really proud that she lent her legal services to us to help serve the needs of women,” Foster said. “She was a very good board member. She was invaluable as an attorney for us.”
Foster said that she had met John Roberts, who now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but that the judge had not been involved with Feminists for Life.
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.
“He’s absolutely anti-Roe,” Gandy said. “He believes it was wrongly decided and should be reversed.” Asked then why Roberts two years ago proclaimed Roe vs. Wade a “settled” issue, Gandy responded: “You have to say that. You can’t get on the court without saying you will follow legal precedent. All the most extreme nominees say that. You can’t even take the oath of office [unless] you say that.”
Jane Roberts graduated magna cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in 1976. In 1984, she graduated cum laude from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington.
She practices and is a partner with the Washington firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw and Pittman, mostly concentrating on the firm’s communications and global sourcing groups.
A close friend characterized her as an “extremely, extremely devout Catholic” who had enjoyed her antiabortion advocacy.
The Catholic News Service in Washington, which praised Judge Roberts and cited his government brief in 1990 challenging Roe vs. Wade, also spoke kindly of Jane Roberts.
“She has been active in Feminists for Life, and is a member of the board of governors of the John Carroll Society, a Catholic lay organization that sponsors the annual Washington archdiocesan Red Mass before the opening of the Supreme Court term,” the news service said.
It also pointed out that if John Rogers were to be elevated to the Supreme Court, he would be the fourth Catholic justice on the current court, along with Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia.
Before Jane Roberts joined the board of Feminists for Life, the organization filed amicus briefs on abortion with the Supreme Court. Records show that the group filed briefs supporting the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, a law aimed at limiting the right to abortions, particularly for minors.
Several antiabortion groups including Feminists for Life also filed a brief in support of the right of abortion protesters to picket a Virginia women’s health clinic. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said the courts did not have the authority to limit protesters’ access to such clinics.
And Feminists for Life filed amicus briefs in the Supreme Court in support of laws in Ohio and Missouri that attempted to limit the rights to an abortion under Roe vs. Wade.
Times staff writers Walter F. Roche Jr. and Benjamin Weyl in Washington contributed to this report.