5:44 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Michael Sullivan's Abortion Dodge

U.S. Senate candidate Michael Sullivan
Credit AP Photo

Michael Sullivan has a problem with the abortion issue. He’s pro-life, seems to think Roe v. Wade was a bad Supreme Court decision, and would consider backing a Supreme Court nominee who agrees. But while that stance will help him in the Republican primary, it could hurt in the general election. And so, when the subject of abortion comes up, Sullivan gets a bit slippery.

At a GOP Senate forum last week, I asked Sullivan and his opponents: "As senator, would you consider voting to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who backs the repeal of Roe v. Wade?" Here's the exchange that followed:

SULLIVAN: Well, I don’t want to have a litmus test in terms of the nominee. I think what would be critically important is looking at the person’s qualifications, the experience they bring to the position, as well as whether or not they’re going to be faithful to the United States Constitution …

ME: What’s your take on the merits of Roe v. Wade as it was decided?

SULLIVAN: Oh, as it was decided -- I think there are people on both sides of the issue, you know, that question whether or not the United States Supreme Court got it right. You know, from a scholarly perspective, including people that are considered scholars and very much supportive of women’s rights … We know the Supreme Court got it absolutely wrong in Dred Scott. And there are scholars, constitutional scholars on both sides of the issue, who question Roe v. Wade as well.

Two things stand out here: the comparison of Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott — perhaps the most reviled Supreme Court decision in history — and Sullivan's indication that, if elected, he wouldn't rule out voting to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who wants Roe v. Wade overturned.

But the next day, when Sullivan appeared on WGBH's Boston Public Radio, he tried to rewrite that exchange in a more politically palatable way.

"You wouldn’t rule out voting to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned,” said BPR's Margery Eagan. “Do you think Roe v. Wade should be overturned?”

“I’m not sure that was my answer to the question,” Sullivan said with a chuckle. “The question was, would I have a litmus test in terms of a nominee to the United States Supreme Court?  And I made it perfectly clear I wouldn’t.”

Later that same day, Sullivan appeared on WGBH's Greater Boston with Emily Rooney. He rejected Rooney's claim that he thinks Roe v. Wade is "bad law" — saying that the decision is "in the rear-view mirror." And, once again, he misstated the terms of the original question. "The question was whether or not there'd be a litmus test," Sullivan said. "There shouldn't be … I think that's really the question the voters would want to know."

It's certainly the question Sullivan wants to answer. But it's not the question I asked.


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