Could Abortion Doctor's Murder Become an Issue in Sotomayor's Confirmation Process?

As Judge Sonia Sotomayor prepares to meet with senators to discuss her Supreme Court nomination, the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller has further stirred up the heated debate over abortion in her confirmation process.

Abortion rights groups are seizing the opportunity to push for clarity on Sotomayor's views on the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision, while anti-abortion groups -- most of which condemned the killing -- say Sunday's event should not affect the Senate's decision-making process.

"I don't think it has anything to do with the Supreme Court justice debate," David Osteen, executive director of the anti-abortion group National Right to Life, told ABC News.

But some anti-abortion groups expressed concern that Tiller's murder might adversely affect their agenda.

"If there is an aggressive effort to try and demonize the pro-life community and our message, then members of the judiciary committee and other pro-life supporters may feel intimidated," Pat Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said at a press conference Monday. "They may feel that their rights are being chilled and they may not speak out as passionately as they would have."

Helen Alvare, associate professor of Law at George Mason University and former spokesperson and attorney for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there will likely be attempts to link Tiller's killer with the anti-abortion movement at large, which could in turn affect the "hearts and minds" campaign. But it's unlikely to have any major impact in the Senate confirmation process, she said.

"I just don't see the spark here is going to ignite the Sotomayor situation," Alvare told ABCNews.com. "It will be attempted to influence it ... [but] I don't see it as a game changer."

Abortion rights advocates say Tiller's murder is a "wake-up call" for legislators, and pressed lawmakers to thoroughly vet the Supreme Court nominee.

"I think it will give pro-choice senators and pro-choice public a crucial reminder of how vigilant they need to be to ensure we have Supreme Court justices who strongly understand and support the constitutional protection from Roe v. Wade," Nancy Northup, president of the advocacy organization the Center for Reproductive Rights, told ABCNews.com.

"I think it intensifies the need for the senators to explore her legal views on the Roe v. Wade decision and projection to the right to abortion in the United States," she added.

Groups on polar opposite sides of the abortion debate were aligned last week in concern over Sotomayor's ill-defined legal position on abortion. With little judicial history to define her stance on the issue, many were wary of the uncertainty of her views and called on senators to ask her to better define her position in the confirmation hearings.

Sotomayor's Views on Abortion a Mystery

Sotomayor has virtually no history of making judgments on abortion cases. Some point to decisions she has made in First Amendment, free speech and civil rights cases that involved the controversial topic in some way, in which she ruled on the side of anti-abortion groups.

In 2002, Sotomayor sided with the Bush administration in a case brought to court by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the ban on government funding to international groups that provided abortion or abortion-related services, also known as "Mexico City Policy." In another 2004 civil rights ruling, she ruled on the side of anti-abortion protestors who sued police officers for brutality outside an abortion clinic. And in a 2006 immigration case, she ruled to grant a Chinese woman extended amnesty on the basis that she faced forced birth control in her home country.

The White House has been mum on the subject, except to defend Sotomayor and to say that her views are aligned with those of President Obama.

"I know he feels comfortable, generally, with her interpretation of the Constitution being similar to that of his," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. "He feels comfortable with where she is."

Anti-abortion groups have also expressed concern on the basis that Obama's pick is likely to side with the president himself in a case involving the Roe v. Wade decision and because of her limited history on these few cases.

"President Obama has said when he was campaigning, repeatedly, he would only nominate a justice to the Supreme Court who supports or affirms Roe v. Wade. President Obama has not backed off that statement," Mahoney said. "You have to operate under the assumption that she's pro-choice, that she affirms Roe because of what the president said."

Tiller's murder caused a widespread firestorm of reaction, with both sides condemning it, except for a few people such as Randall Terry, founder of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who said in a statement: "George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder."

Terry said in a press conference Monday that his organization will protest outside the Capitol during the confirmation hearings.

"It is my conviction that every pro-life senator on that Hill needs to insist that she come clean on where she stands on child killing," Terry said. "And if she won't overturn Roe, then she has to be filibustered."

The president issued a statement saying he was "shocked" and "outraged" by the murder. "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," Obama said.

As Sotomayor prepares for her Senate meetings, it remains to be seen what impact, if any, Tiller's murder would have on the abortion debate on the Hill. For now, both groups remain uncertain as the confirmation process begins.

ABC News' Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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