Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions said during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that he disagreed with the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, but added that now that it's "law of the land" he will respect it.
In response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sessions admitted that he still maintains the view that the decision, Roe vs. Wade, was "one of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time."
"I believe it violated the constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow law," Sessions said.
Yet he said that the decision is now "the law of the land" and "has been so established and settled for quite a long time, and it deserves respect and I would respect it and follow it."
Feinstein followed up with a question about an interview with President-elect Donald Trump on 60 Minutes, in which Trump said that same-sex marriage was "already settled, it's law. It was settled in the Supreme Court, and I'm fine with that," but maintained that Roe V. Wade should be overturned.
"Here's another question," Feinstein said. "If you believe same-sex marriage is settled law, but a woman's right to choose is not, what is the difference?"
Sessions responded that Trump's words were not his own. "I haven't said that the woman's right to choose or the Roe versus Wade is not the law of the land or not clear today," he said, "so I would follow that law."
When asked later in the hearing if he would support overturning Roe v. Wade — which President-Elect Trump vowed he would appoint Supreme Court justices to do — Sessions dismissed the question as "hypothetical" and said he could not answer it.
Earlier in the confirmation hearing, Feinstein asked Sessions about his stance on the Hyde Amendment, which prevents government funds from going toward abortion.
The Hyde Amendment has exceptions for rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research institution that supports abortion rights, abortion providers for women who become pregnant from rape or incest often have a difficult time obtaining Medicaid reimbursements.
Feinstein asked Sessions if he would ensure that the exceptions to the Hyde Amendment are upheld, and specifically apply to victims of human trafficking who become pregnant from rape.
"The Hyde amendment would not prevent the distribution of these funds," Sessions said, "and that's most important to me, because Congress has spoken and the bill is law."
Later in the hearing Sessions said he would "use the appropriate federal agencies," including the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances statute (FACE), to ensure "that a person who wants to receive a lawful abortion cannot be blocked by protesters and disruption of a doctor's practice."
This answer was in response to a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal about Sessions and Trump receiving the endorsement of the radical anti-abortion activist organization Operation Rescue, which has ties to the murder of an abortion provider and the torching of abortion clinics.
While Sessions said that he "disavow[s] any activity like that," he did not say that he would disavow the group's endorsement.
Sessions is vocally anti-abortion and has widespread support from anti-abortion organizations such as Susan B. Anthony List.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA List President, released a statement Tuesday calling Sessions a "principled pro-life advocate" who will "defend the Constitution and fight for the constitutional right to life of every American, including the unborn."
"For eight years the Obama Justice Department, blinded by their pro-abortion bias, has failed to investigate the negligence and abuse endemic to the abortion industry" Dannenfelser wrote. "No more. As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions will hold the corrupt abortion industry accountable, protect conscience rights, and defend laws that save lives."
SBA List did not comment on Sessions' vow to respect Roe v. Wade.
70 abortion rights advocacy organizations, including Planned Parenthood, spent the week before Sessions' hearing sending letters to senators involved with the hearing encouraging them to deny Sessions confirmation, due to his history of anti-abortion actions and beliefs.
"Jeff Sessions has long opposed the protections for clinics facing violence, raising deep concerns about whether he will ensure the safety of reproductive health care providers and staff and remain impartial in enforcing the law," Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood wrote in a statement.
Sessions previously stated that he would support federal defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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