Sen. Edward Kennedy on Life magazine in January 1965

The issue of abortion is expected to take center stage during the upcoming confirmation hearings for John Roberts, President Bush’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

And one of the key questioners of Roberts will be Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While many today regard the Democrat as a champion for abortion rights, the senator, who is Catholic, apparently held a staunch pro-life view before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1972.

In 1971, Tom Dennelly of Great Neck, N.Y., wrote to Kennedy expressing his personal views on abortion.

Kennedy responded to Dennelly, writing: (note: letter is on PDF format)

“While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.

“On the question of the individual’s freedom of choice there are easily available birth-control methods and information which women may employ to prevent or postpone pregnancy. But once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire. …

“When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

“The same Ted Kennedy who once championed the rights of the unborn now champions the right of a doctor to jam a scissor into the skull of an infant who is 80-percent born,” said William Donohue, president of the Catholic League. “Sadly for him, history will look back at this era and recognize that he didn’t care enough about human beings to take responsibility for children from the very moment of conception.”

Kennedy was in the news recently for another apparent flip flop.

The senator has been vocal about Roberts, saying the federal judge “will be expected to answer fully” any questions about his views on controversial issues; but the Democrat sang a different tune in 1967, when he noted that candidates should “defer any comments” on such matters. reports it obtained 38-year-old film footage of Kennedy, who was responding to a question about senators grilling Thurgood Marshall about how he might rule in future cases should he be on the nation’s highest court.

“We have to respect that any nominee to the Supreme Court would have to defer any comments on any matters, which are either before the court or very likely to be before the court,” Kennedy said during the 1967 press conference. “This has been a procedure which has been followed in the past and is one which I think is based upon sound legal precedent.”

Kennedy has become an avid boater in recent years

But on July 20 of this year, Kennedy delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate in which he seemed to contradict the notion of deferring any comments, saying that senators “must not fail in our duty to the American people to responsibly examine Judge Roberts’ legal views.”

“Because Judge Roberts has written relatively few opinions in his brief tenure as a judge, his views on a wide variety of vital issues are still unknown,” Kennedy stated. “What little we know about his views and values lends even greater importance and urgency to his responsibility to provide the Senate and the American people with clear answers.”

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