Emily Lyons, a nurse who was seriously injured in a 1998 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., women's clinic, appears in a 30-second ad by NARAL Pro-Choice America that started airing Tuesday.
"His record demonstrates a commitment to siding with the very groups that threatened, intimidated and bombed women's clinics," Lyons told reporters in Washington, where the ad was announced.
The ad was denounced by Roberts' advocates as deceitful, signaling an escalation in the debate over his nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
President Bush nominated Roberts, currently a federal judge in the District of Columbia, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings next month. Until then, special interest groups will continue dissecting Roberts' record for ammunition to either support or sink his confirmation.
At least some criticism is coming from the right.
On Wednesday (Aug. 10), Public Advocate of the United States, a relatively obscure conservative group based in Virginia, held a news conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to announce it was withdrawing its support of Roberts because it opposes the nominee's past support of gay rights. As a partner with a Washington law firm, Roberts helped overturn a Colorado law that exempted gays from state anti-discrimination measures.
Abortion rights advocates at NARAL take issue with a brief Roberts wrote in 1991, when he was with the solicitor general's office in President George H.W. Bush's administration. The case involved whether an 1871 law to suppress the work of the Ku Klux Klan could be applied to abortion protesters who tried to block access to clinics, such as Operation Rescue. Roberts did not defend the violent tactics but argued the federal law did not apply to abortion protesters.
"America can't afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans," the announcer in the ad states.
But the Supreme Court agreed with Roberts and the abortion protest groups, and Roberts' allies disputed the allegation that the nominee's legal position amounted to condoning violence.
"To associate a man of John Roberts' character and integrity with criminals is simply deceitful," said C. Boyden Gray, chairman of the Committee for Justice, a group that backs Bush's judicial nominees.
The Republican National Committee also cited a memo Roberts wrote years ago regarding presidential pardons for clinic bombers in which he said, "No matter how lofty or sincerely held the goal, those who resort to violence to achieve it are criminals."
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Lyons said they did not believe Roberts endorses violence by people who oppose abortion, only that he chose to make a legal argument that they favored.
"He was saying the federal government shouldn't step in to protect clinics and that in itself is wrong," Lyons said Tuesday from Birmingham.
Although the anti-abortion groups won the case in 1993, Congress later passed a law specifically against blocking access to women's health clinics.
Lyons' comments in the ad were originally filmed for a 1998 ad about clinic access that was relevant to the debate in a New York race for the U.S. Senate.
"I'm determined to stop this violence so I'm speaking out," Lyons said in the ad.
She has had 21 surgeries since the bombing. Eric Robert Rudolph pleaded guilty to the attack, which killed an off-duty police officer, and was given two life sentences without the possibility of parole.
NARAL is spending $500,000 to run the ad for two weeks on CNN and Fox cable networks and in Maine and Rhode Island, home to Republican senators with voting records supporting abortion rights.
Later Tuesday, a group called Progress for America launched a response ad in the same markets calling the NARAL spot a "desperate and false attack, recklessly distorting Judge Roberts' record."