Johnsen’s name was among a list of nominees sent to the Senate last week. The Senate did not act on Obama’s first nomination of Johnsen, back on Jan. 5 of 2009.
Johnsen is a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law who was the legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America from 1988 to 1993, and a staff counsel fellow for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project in 1987-88.
In a 1987 report for the Hastings Center, a bioethics and public policy group, Johnsen wrote an article entitled, “A New Threat to Pregnant Women’s Autonomy.”
In the piece, Johnsen makes the case that courts and lawmakers should not put the rights of the unborn above those of the mother who, Johnsen argues, must consider a host of priorities that may take precedence over protecting her unborn child.
Under the subtitle, “The Limits of Moral Obligation” Johnsen writes: “While supporting fetal recognition by the law at the expense of the woman is largely misguided, the ‘fetal rights’ movement may reflect in part a legitimate and important desire to promote healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.”
“A pregnant woman can affect her future child’s health and quality of life, albeit to a limited extent,” Johnsen writes. “Her power to do so carries with it a moral obligation to act responsibly during pregnancy. That does not mean, however, that the state should attempt to transform a pregnant woman into an ideal baby-making machine.”
In 2005, Johnson wrote for the liberal American Constitution Society’s blog about the ban on partial-birth abortion -- passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush -- stating her opposition to the ban. She described it as the “first federal, rather than state, abortion restriction, criminalizing certain abortions throughout the nation and without regard to state law.”
On the same day that Obama sent Johnsen’s re-nomination to the Senate, Rep. Steve King (R-Ind.) sent the president a second letter on behalf of himself and 62 fellow members of Congress asking that Johnsen’s nomination be withdrawn, citing her pro-abortion views. (King and his colleagues sent the first letter requesting Johnsen’s withdrawal in March of last year.)
“Dawn Johnsen’s pro-abortion agenda is a stark contrast to your stated intention to find common ground on the issue of abortion, the letter reads. “She has condemned virtually every type of regulation of abortion conceived by a legislature, no matter how mild the regulation or how shocking the practice regulated, as unacceptable.”
“In a Supreme Court amicus brief that she authored, Ms. Johnsen wrote, ‘While a woman might choose to bear children gladly and voluntarily, statutes that curtail her abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest," reads the letter.
Johnsen also wrote in the brief that “abortion restrictions ‘reduce pregnant women to no more than fetal containers,’” according to Rep. King’s letter.
“The Office of Legal Counsel needs a leader that will respect the Constitution and resist the temptation to substitute personal ideology for sound legal reasoning,” the letter states.
Liberal groups, however, are praising the president’s re-nomination.
“By virtue of her outstanding legal abilities and experience, impeccable judgment, thoughtfulness, and dedication to the rule of law, Dawn Johnsen is exceptionally well-qualified to lead the Office of Legal Counsel,” Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement issued on Jan. 21. “It is unconscionable that such a superbly qualified nominee was blocked for over nine months.”
In April, the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) backed Johnson’s nomination.
“SALT applauds President Obama’s decision to nominate Professor Johnsen, especially in light of her outspoken criticism of the secret memos OLC staff in the Bush administration wrote that purported to justify and permit the use of torture on detainees held by the United States as suspects in the ‘war on terror,’” a statement from the group said.