WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama, dealing carefully with the explosive issue of abortion, said Wednesday that he will choose a Supreme Court nominee who pays heed to women’s rights and personal privacy when interpreting the Constitution.

“That’s very important to me,” Obama said. Yet he insisted he will not make any potential nominee pass a “litmus test” on a woman’s right to end a pregnancy.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that laws restricting that right violated women’s privacy. The courts have battled with the ramifications since then, although the core ruling has gone untouched. Still, open access to abortion remains a highly volatile subject in U.S. politics.

Traditionally, Obama’s Democrats have more favorable positions toward abortion than the opposition Republicans.

“I think part of what our constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals have protection in their privacy, and their bodily integrity, and women are not exempt from that,” Obama said.

His comments on women’s rights came as he consulted senators and forged ahead in choosing his next nominee for the high court. He is considering about 10 people as candidates to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens, who is retiring.

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The president’s decision is expected within the next few weeks. Stevens is considered a staunch supporter of abortion rights.

Noting that the abortion debate has long divided the country, Obama underscored his belief in a right to privacy while attempting not to box himself in.

When asked whether he could nominate someone who did not support the woman’s right to choose abortion, Obama said: “I am somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction.”

As far as his nominee, Obama said he would repeat the stand of other presidents by not judging candidates with a single-issue test on abortion.

“But I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights,” Obama said. “And that’s going to be something that’s very important to me.”

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate must confirm nominations for federal court judgeships. The nine justices of the Supreme Court, because of their power to interpret the law with no further challenge, often generate bitter political hearings before they are approved or rejected.

Stevens leads the liberals on the court, and the person Obama nominates is not expected to change the ideological balance among the nine justices.

Obama made his remarks at the start of a consultative session at the White House with senators who help shape the tone and course of the Senate confirmation process. Seated with him were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel.

Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator and veteran of many Supreme Court confirmation battles, joined Obama as well.


Associated Press writer Jesse J. Holland contributed to this story.

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