Top Senator: Obama’s Pro-Abortion Legal Counsel Pick Dawn Johnsen Lack Votes

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 12, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Top Senator: Obama’s Pro-Abortion Legal Counsel Pick Dawn Johnsen Lack Votes

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 12
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says President Barack Obama’s pro-abortion selection to head the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen, does not have enough votes to be confirmed. If so, Johnsen could be the first pro-abortion nominee pro-life advocates may be able to stop.

In that position, Johnsen, who has been condemned for comparing pregnancy to slavery, would provide legal advice to Obama and administration officials.

She has also come under fire for comparing pregnant women to "fetal containers," labeling pregnant women "losers in the contraceptive lottery," and comparing pro-lifers to the Klu Klux Klan.

Johnsen is a professor at the Indiana University School of Law, but she is also a longtime abortion advocate and worked for one of the leading abortion advocacy groups. She was the Legal Director for NARAL from 1988-1993.

Reid said today that he is making calls to the offices of Republican senators to see if he has enough votes to stop a potential filibuster of Johnsen’s nomination. Senate Democrats, virtually all of whom are pro-abortion, would need a handful of votes from Republicans to reach the 60 needed to end debate and allow a vote on confirmation.

“Right now we’re finding out when to do that. I’ve had a number of conversations with some Republicans to find out if we have a couple of Republican votes,” Reid said, according to Roll Call.

“We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60," Reid added. And it’s just a small number, maybe two or three. But at this stage, I don’t have all the Democrats. I have virtually all, but not all. And remember, we have 59 Democrats, and that’s not enough to do it."

Reid also acknowledged that a few Democrats, including pro-life Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, may oppose Johnsen’s nomination.

Nelson press secretary Clay Westrope told Roll Call that Nelson “is very concerned” about Johnsen’s nomination and pointed to her tenure with the national pro-abortion group as part of the problem.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Johnsen in February, where she received a party-line 11-7 vote in favor of moving her nomination to the full Senate.

There, Sen. Arlen Specter, when he was a Republican, voted against Johnsen and Roll Call indicates he continues to oppose her nomination despite changing to the Democratic Party recently.

On the other side, pro-life advocates are disappointed that nominally pro-life Sen. Dick Lugar, an Indiana Republican, is supporting Johnsen.

Prior to her working for NARAL, Johnsen worked in the Clinton administration as the Acting Assistant Attorney General heading the Office of Legal Counsel from 1997-1998 and as Deputy Assistant Attorney General from 1993-1996. She also served on the Clinton transition team in 1992.

During her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Johnsen came under fire for equating pregnancy with slavery.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee’s ranking Republican at the time, brought up those comments she had made in a 1989 brief filed in the Supreme Court in the Webster case.

In the papers, Johnsen said that any restriction that makes abortion less accessible is, in her view, tantamount to “involuntary servitude” because it “requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest [in the life of the unborn].”

In effect, a woman “is constantly aware for nine months that her body is not her own: the state has conscripted her body for its own ends.” Such “forced pregnancy,” she contends, violates the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits slavery.

In response to Specter’s criticism, Johnsen dismissed her pregnancy-slavery contention and said it merely came in a footnote in the legal brief. She claims she never “believed the 13th Amendment had any role” in the abortion issue.

In an article at National Review, Andrew McCarthy took Johnsen to task for the comparison.

"The Court rejected this farcical theory, just as it has rejected other instantiations of Johnsen’s extremism," McCarthy explained.

"In reputable private law offices and U.S. attorney’s offices throughout the country, adult supervision would prevent such a lunatic analogy from finding its way into a letter to a lower-court judge, much less into a Supreme Court brief," he added.

"Obama, however, is proposing that Johnsen be the adult supervision at Justice. He would fill a position calling for dispassionate rigor with a crusader for whom strident excess is habitual."

ACTION: Contact members of the Senate at and urge strong opposition to Johnsen’s appointment.

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