The woman who a year ago became the first black federal judge in the history of the state of Indiana gave no inkling at the time of her appointment by President Obama of someday possibly being a pro-life heroine.
But Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana last week delivered what Thomas More Society chief counsel Tom Brejcha declared to be "a significant partial victory for Life."
In an opinion that blocked parts of a state law defunding the Indiana chapter of Planned Parenthood, Pratt denied Planned Parenthood's request to stop Indiana from requiring that doctors tell women seeking abortions that "human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm."
According to Pratt, "the language crafted by the legislature in this provision supports a finding that the mandated statement refers exclusively to a growing organism that is a member of the Homo sapiens species." Pratt called the content of the disclosure requirement "a biological fact relating to the development of the living organism; therefore, it may be reasonably read to provide accurate, non-misleading information to the patient."
Pratt in many respects appeared to be a model liberal judge. For one thing she got past the American Bar Association's evaluation committee, receiving a "Well Qualified" rating from a substantial majority of its members. The ABA has notoriously used its ratings system to derail Supreme Court and other judicial nominations when opposition to legalized abortion is suspected, successfully in the case of Robert Bork in 1987; unsuccessfully in the case of Clarence Thomas in 1991.
A probate Superior Court judge at the time of her appointment by Obama, Pratt also presided over major felony matters for 12 years, later supervising juvenile cases. Before becoming a judge she was a deputy public defender - almost always a sign that a lawyer's politics lean left. A member of the Indiana Bar Association House of Delegates, for years she chaired the Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday Commission in Indiana and earned her law degree from Howard University.
Before that, she graduated Atlanta's Spelman College, the alma mater of liberals like Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman and Color Purple author Alice Walker. Obama nominated her to the federal bench last year on then-Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's recommendation, after which the U.S. Senate confirmed her unanimously.
But other facts from her background suggest at least a possibility of sympathy to the pro-life cause. Three times in conservative Indiana, Pratt was at or near the top in garnering votes in elections to sit on the Superior Court. And in her bio on the website of the Indianapolis Bar Association's Judicial Excellence Political Action Committee, she notes that "I received the 2006 Career Achievement Award from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis." She also states that "I attend St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, and am a former Chair of St. Joan of Arc School Commission."
That Indianapolis parish is active in opposing abortion, having hosted speaking engagements by Fr. Frank Pavone's Staten Island, New York-based Priests for Life.
It might be a stretch to imagine that an Obama appointee to the federal judiciary could end up being closer to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on abortion than to Justice Sonia Sotomayor or Justice Elena Kagan, but Pratt's declaration regarding when human life begins once again proves that once a judge gets a lifetime appointment, there are no guarantees.
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