By SARA DONNELLY  |  March 2, 2006

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks wondering what went through Snowe’s mind during those hours before the vote. Collins, whose support for abortion rights has been more inconsistent than Snowe’s, had already announced her intention days earlier; Alito’s confirmation was a near certainty. Snowe knew her vote against Alito wouldn’t reverse the tide. She knew the time for real opposition was weeks before, when Dems were casting around for Republican support for a filibuster. She also knew dissent from the party line would be politically dangerous.

Still, what was Snowe thinkingwhen she, one of the most powerful women in the country, brushed off this world-altering controversy? Perhaps she was thinking about the ebb and flow of power in a world where jeopardizing women’s rights is just another chess move.

Good behavior 101
Pro-life responses to the confirmation of Alito and fellow conservative John Roberts to the US Supreme Court have been swift.

According to the New York Times, some abortion opponents see the induction of Alito and Roberts as the first opportunity since 1992 to launch a series of state challenges to Roe that will land at the feet of the Supreme Court. In keeping with this plan, South Dakota lawmakers passed a direct attack on Roe v. Wade on February 22. If enacted by the state’s anti-abortion governor, the law will ban all abortions except to save a woman’s life. Abortions will be prohibited even in cases of rape and incest, or when the woman’s health will suffer.

Abortion bans as extreme as South Dakota’s, which was endorsed by legislators three weeks after the Senate confirmed Alito, are being considered in five other states. Abortion opponents have long planned to attack Roe state-by-state with laws that, by their very extremity, will guarantee consideration before the Supreme Court (and, therefore, a re-evaluation of abortion rights nationwide). With the Supreme Court shifting right, some pro-lifers believe the time is now.

Meanwhile, in the same week the South Dakota bill passed, the Supreme Court granted the Bush administration’s request to consider what the Washington Post calls “the most significant ruling on abortion in 15 years,” the “partial birth” abortion ban. The federal ban prohibits an abortion procedure generally used after the first trimester. The Supreme Court will decide whether the ban, which has been ruled unconstitutional in a lower court, must include an exception to protect the health of the mother.

Planned Parenthood has called the Supreme Court’s scheduled evaluation of the lower-court ruling “a dangerous act of hostility aimed squarely at women’s health and safety.”

But pro-choice advocates are reluctant to speak of Alito supporters —who arguably helped bring about this freak show — in such stark terms. “It’s never that simple,” sighs Claire Giesen, executive director of the nonpartisan, pro-choice National Women’s Political Caucus, when I ask her why Snowe and Collins didn’t oppose Alito and Roberts. Members of the NWPC met with both senators’ staffs several times to encourage them to oppose the confirmation of both Alito and Roberts, in part because of their views on abortion.

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