Ad softens opposition to Roberts

Smarting from criticism of earlier spot, abortion rights group tries again


WASHINGTON - Trying again after an initial misfire, the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America began running a second TV commercial yesterday with a more abstract approach to opposing the confirmation of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court.

The new advertisement replaces a controversial commercial that tried to portray Roberts as "supporting violent fringe groups" and excusing "violence against other Americans" because he once defended the legal right of a convicted bomber to protest outside an abortion clinic. NARAL quickly withdrew it last week after charges of inaccuracy from both opponents and allies.

The organization's second effort applies a softer focus. "Privacy, equality, the right to choose, fundamental freedoms Americans have cherished for generations," an announcer says as the screen displays several images of parents with children and one of a racially diverse workplace.

"But John Roberts dismisses one of our established liberties as the `so-called right to privacy,' and co-wrote a brief arguing that Roe v. Wade should be overruled," the announcer continues. "There is just too much at stake to let John Roberts become a decisive vote on the Supreme Court." Like the previous advertisement, the commercial does not mention the divisive word abortion.

Chastened by the criticism of the previous advertisement, Naral sent journalists and its supporters a detailed "fact sheet" citing its sources for the current ad: a memorandum Roberts wrote as a lawyer in the Reagan administration referring to the "so-called right to privacy" and a brief in the case of Rust v. Sullivan that he helped prepare as a lawyer for the Bush administration that criticized Roe v. Wade, the case that established a legal right to abortion.

Appearing just 10 days before the hearings on Roberts' nomination and about a month before an expected Senate vote, the new ad illustrates the challenge of finding footholds in Roberts' record for the coalition of liberal groups now mustering opposition to his confirmation.

NARAL remains the only group to run commercials opposing him, although People for the American Way sent an e-mail message to supporters yesterday soliciting contributions to pay for radio and television advertisements against Roberts.

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