Sotomayor Sat on Board of Organization That Fought ‘Any Efforts’ to Oppose Abortion

By Matt Cover | July 16, 2009 | 8:08 AM EDT

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor testifies on before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, July 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

( – At her confirmation hearing this week, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor refused to give her personal views on abortion. However, Sotomayor spent more than a decade serving on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), a group that opposes “any efforts” to “in any way restrict” abortion.
According to legal briefs filed by PRLDEF, the group opposed parental consent laws, waiting periods, and even the broad “undue burden” standard, which says abortion restrictions cannot be too burdensome for women wanting to end their pregnancies.
Sotomayor did not provide those legal briefs to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
According to the PRLDEF – now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF, “Sonia is a member of our family and spent more than a decade providing leadership to our organization,” President Cesar Perales said in a statement. “She is a most practical person who found solutions to complex issues.”
During the time that Sotomayor sat on its board, PRLDEF filed multiple legal briefs with the Supreme Court, arguing that unrestricted abortion was a fundamental right.
In the 1989 case Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, PRLDEF argued in an amicus brief that Ohio’s parental notification and consent laws imposed a “tremendous burden” on young girls, amounting to an “absolute parental veto” of a girl’s decision to abort her baby.
This “absolute parental veto” was too harsh, PRLDEF said, arguing that if parents were allowed to prevent their daughters from having abortions, it might “compromise” their daughters’ development, preventing them from ever being capable of “independent decision-making.”
“Moreover, compulsory notification may compromise the two central tasks of adolescence – the development of gradual separation from the family of origin, and the development of the capacity for independent decision-making,” the brief said.
PRLDEF was joined in that case by the Worker’s World Party (WWP), a communist organization based on the Marxist philosophy of global revolution and state control. The PRLDEF and WWP, along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, argued that forcing girls to tell their parents they want an abortion would deprive girls of their basic liberties.
“[T]he statute constitutes not only an impermissible condition on the fundamental right to an abortion,” the groups argued, “but also a deprivation of liberty in the basic sense – the imposition of avoidable harm to the most vulnerable party.”
The “most vulnerable party” to which Sotomayor’s group was referring is the pregnant girl, not her unborn child.
In another Supreme Court case, Rust v Sullivan (1989), Sotomayor’s group argued that the government should give adolescent girls “a warm and accepting environment” to discuss their abortion options, instead of sending them to “inappropriate” prenatal care centers.
“A warm and accepting environment in which the [pregnant] adolescent feels sufficiently secure…is essential. By giving women inappropriate referrals to prenatal care providers, the regulations will also delay those women,” from obtaining abortions.
Rust challenged federal regulations barring federally funded family planning providers from recommending abortion. NRLDEF argued that the government should be allowed to recommend abortion, but the Supreme Court disagreed.
In a third case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), PRLDEF opposed the “undue burden” standard, arguing that it would not save potential human life. PRLDEF also argued that opposition to abortion was partly motivated by anger over a woman’s ability to make her own decisions.
“Hostility to abortion is fueled not simply by beliefs about the sacredness of the fetus, but also by anger at abortion as a symbol of women’s taking some control over their lives,” the group argued.

In a fourth case, Williams v Zbaraz (1980), PRLDEF argued that state governments must use Medicaid funding to provide abortions. The group compared abortion to other Medicaid-provided medical services such as eyeglasses, prescription drugs, and orthodontics. The group argued that if states could deny people abortions, they could deny them braces, too.
Sotomayor, as a federal appeals court judge, has not directly ruled on abortion, but pro-life groups say her affiliation with PRLDEF is telling: “A vote for Judge Sotomayor is a vote for unrestricted abortion-on-demand without any common-sense restrictions -- a position far outside the mainstream of the American public," said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life.
See earlier story:
Sotomayor Was Part of Legal Group that Argued Abortion is a ‘Fundamental Right’ (10 July 2009)