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Abortion issue rallies conservatives, liberals ahead of Supreme Court fight Wed Jul 6, 3:51 AM ET - AFP
The perennial battle over abortion rights in the United States is galvanizing conservative and liberal activists, who are hoping to influence President George W. Bush's choice to fill a newly-vacated US Supreme Court seat.
For decades, a deep ideological rift over a woman's right to end an unwanted pregnancy has cleaved this country into two powerful, and equally-impassioned camps.
Conservatives, who turned out in record numbers to cast votes last November for the Republican president, see in the retirement of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor a historic chance to reshape the nine-member high court, and fulfill a fervent wish to overturn the watershed Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case which guaranteed women the right to an abortion.
Liberals, meanwhile, have sternly warned Bush not to name an "extremist" to the court and have vowed to put up a fierce fight to safeguard the right to legal abortion.
With a Supreme Court seat now open for the first time in more than a decade, groups on both sides of the bitter abortion divide have said they are planning to spend millions to lobby Congress and the White House, and to rally their supporters.
Political observers predicted Armaggedon once the fight to replace O'Connor is joined in earnest, with dozens of political groups expected to play a role.
"I think we're in for a pretty partisan battle," said Orrin Hatch, a conservative US senator and longserving member of the powerful Senate Judiciary committee that will vet US President George W. Bush's eventual Supreme Court nominee.
The debate also is expect to further polarize an already-divided US Senate which will be called upon to confirm the president's pick.
"He said he's going to pick a strong conservative, and I think that's going to cause a battle no matter what," Hatch told ABC television Tuesday.
Even before O'Connor announced her departure, the conservative Progress for America group last month launched a 700,000-dollar fundraising effort, hoping to beat back "liberal attack groups ... hungry to smear almost any potential candidate for the Supreme Court who doesn't meet their left-wing, extemist litmus test."
Likewise, the Family Research Council said on its website that it is "primed for the fight it will take to confirm a nominee," and vowed to mobilize 20,000 churches across the nation to lobby for a conservative justice.
Liberal groups were equally motivated: The pro-choice Feminist Majority sounded the alarm within hours of O'Connor announcing her retirement.
"This is it! The worst has happened with the resignation of Sandra Day OConnor," the group said on its website.
"Let there be no mistake about it: Sandra Day OConnor was the fifth vote that was saving Roe vs. Wade," the group said in a dire warning to its supporters.
"Abortion rights and womens rights are on the line."
Another liberal group, MoveOn.org said on its website that it aimed to deliver 300,000 petition signatures by Tuesday to the US Senate, asking lawmakers to help preserve the right to end a pregnancy.
And the left-leaning "Ms." magazine this month warned its readers that "rolling back reproductive rights is only the first act in a nightmare scenario that could come to pass if right-wing judges take over the federal courts and the nations highest court."
Bush said in a newspaper interview published Tuesday that he expected to have a new justice on the bench by October, and already had identified "a good-sized" number of prospects.
The US president called on partisan groups to tone down the heated rhetoric, insisting in an interview USA Today that he is immune to the high-intensity lobbying.
"I feel no pressure, except the pressure to put somebody on the bench who will bring dignity to the office, somebody who's got the intellect necessary to do the job, somebody of great integrity and somebody who will faithfully interpret the Constitution," Bush said.