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Merrick Garland has no public record on abortion. That makes some advocates uneasy.

Merrick Garland.
Merrick Garland.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It's no secret that the Supreme Court is hugely consequential to reproductive rights in America. The next justice will have an outsize influence over any future abortion cases that come down to a 5-4 split.

But on abortion, President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, is a mystery.

"We thoroughly examined Merrick's record and couldn't find a public position or time he had publicly weighed in on reproductive rights," said James Owens, states communications director at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

So how are advocates for and against abortion dealing with the news?

Mainstream reproductive rights groups are waiting to learn more

Major organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America are sounding a cautiously optimistic note. They're glad Obama has a nominee and they say Garland seems like an extremely qualified candidate, but they're not at all prepared to take a position on him until they learn more during Senate hearings.

Of course, there won't be any hearings unless Senate Republicans decide to hold them. So the groups' harshest judgment is reserved not for Garland but for Republicans.

"By objective standards, there are few more qualified candidates for the highest court in the land than Judge Merrick Garland, yet the Republican Senate is refusing to do its job and move his nomination forward in a timely manner," said NARAL president Ilyse Hogue in a statement. "With seven in ten Americans supporting legal access to abortion, we have a right to know where our justices stand on this important issue. It’s time for Republicans to stop putting their party’s interests ahead of our nation’s."

Hogue added that the group looks forward to "learning more" about Garland's stances on reproductive rights.

"Judge Garland seems like a responsible and qualified nominee," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Cecile Richards in a statement. "There’s a lot that we don’t know about his judicial approach, and that’s why the Senate needs to do its job and hold a fair hearing and up or down vote."

Not every judge actually gets the chance to weigh in on abortion cases throughout his or her career, so reproductive rights advocates often have to wait until confirmation hearings to get a clear sense of where a justice stands on Roe v. Wade. But groups usually welcome the process and the chance to learn more.

NARAL put out similar statements for both Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor, calling the candidates qualified and saying "we look forward to learning more" about their views on choice."

NARAL endorsed Sotomayor after she made clear in her confirmation hearing that she believes "there is a right to privacy," and that Roe v. Wade is "settled law." The group didn't take a position on Kagan either way, though, because they didn't learn enough during her hearing.

But as the oral arguments on the latest Supreme Court abortion case showed, both justices have proven to be pretty strong pro-choice picks.

Some pro-choice advocates are already disappointed in Obama's nomination

Some advocates aren't waiting until the confirmation hearings to express their displeasure with Garland's pick. They say picking a "moderate" with unknown views on choice is a slap in the face to women and the pro-choice movement — a signal that their concerns aren't the highest priority in a nominee.

"It’s unfortunate that President Obama felt it was necessary to appoint a nominee to the Supreme Court whose record on issues pertaining to women’s rights is more or less a blank slate," said Terry O'Neill, president of NOW (National Organization for Women).

ReproAction, a left-flank reproductive justice advocacy group, released a statement saying Obama should have chosen a "progressive" candidate.

"At a time when the Supreme Court is considering the most sweeping abortion access case in a generation, it’s untenable that President Obama would produce a nominee with unknown views on reproductive health, rights, and justice," the statement said.

The group also looked down on the idea that picking Garland was "part of a political game designed to make Senate Republicans look bad."

"Let’s be clear: Just because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is acting like a toddler doesn’t mean President Obama has to respond like a sixth grader," the statement said.

NOW and ReproAction both joined a large number of black women's groups who are disappointed that Obama chose to pick a white man instead of a black woman at a time when there has never been a black female justice on the Supreme Court.

Anti-abortion groups don't trust Garland because Obama nominated him

For the most part, anti-abortion advocates are taking the same position as Senate Republicans: They don't even want to hold a hearing for anyone President Obama nominates.

Anti-abortion groups aren't interested in waiting to learn more about Garland's unknown views on abortion rights. The fact that President Obama picked him is enough to disqualify him, they stated.

"We do not know this nominee but we do know Barack Obama," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the prominent anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. "Anyone he nominates will join the voting bloc on the Court that consistently upholds abortion on-demand."

"There is little doubt that the next Obama nominee would provide the fifth vote to strip elected legislators of all meaningful authority to protect unborn children and regulate abortion," said National Right to Life president Carol Tobias.

Some even claimed that Merrick favors abortion, without any evidence that he actually does.

"Judge Merrick Garland is President Obama’s pro-abortion pick to tempt some Republicans to act now to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court," said Americans United for Life senior counsel and acting president Clarke Forsythe.

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