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JULY 19, 2002
3:46 PM
CONTACT:  Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Marjorie Signer , 202-628-7700, ext. 21
Interfaith Coalition Questions Suitability of Court Nominee Priscilla Owen
WASHINGTON - July 19 - The following is a statement of Reverend Carlton W. Veazey, president, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

Religions have varying views about the beginning of life and of personhood that lead to different beliefs about the permissibility of abortion -- beliefs that are grounded in theology, not science. It is for this reason that the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice holds that secular laws regarding abortion are unconstitutional if they impose a religious viewpoint or require adherence to a religious belief.

This concern for protecting freedom of conscience and religious freedom causes us to question the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Associate Justice Priscilla Owen for a position on the 5th U.S. District Court of Appeals. Justice Owen has consistently ruled against reproductive choice since coming to the Texas Supreme Court in 1995. As an alliance of faith groups, our particular concern relates to the case Jane Doe 1 (Texas 2000), in which Justice Owen wrote that she would impose a religious counseling requirement that had not been approved by the Texas legislature before recognizing the right to an abortion in a judicial bypass case. A hearing on Owen's nomination is scheduled for Tuesday, July 23.

In Jane Doe 1, Justice Owen questioned whether Doe, a college-bound senior who had received information about her options from friends, family, a parenting teacher, and Planned Parenthood, was aware of the religious implications of abortion, despite the fact that the law in no way involves religious considerations. She wrote:

"I would require a minor to demonstrate that she has sought and obtained meaningful counseling from a qualified source about the emotional and psychological impact she may experience now and later in her life as a result of having an abortion.... She should also indicate to the court that she is aware of and has considered that there are philosophic, social, moral and religious arguments that can be brought to bear when considering abortion.... (R)equiring a minor to exhibit an awareness that there are issues, including religious ones, (that) surround the abortion decision is not prohibited by the Establishment Clause."

Justice Owen would also rewrite the criterion allowing judicial bypass if notification would not be in the minor's best interest. Owen wrote that she would add a requirement that "a court find... by a preponderance of the evidence that an abortion is in the best interest of the minor." Owen did not state what evidence other than a woman's personal choice should be relevant to this question but her statement on counseling requirements raises the possibility that she would favor an unconstitutional religious test.

Since the Coalition's founding in 1973, our purpose has been to safeguard the ability of women to make reproductive decisions according to their beliefs and conscience, without governmental interference or imposition or religious tests. The nomination of Justice Owen is inconsistent with this purpose.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is the national alliance of 38 organizations from 16 denominations and faith traditions, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, and Reform and Conservative Judaism.


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