The Truth-O-Meter Says:
House Republican Conference

Obama nominee Dawn Johnsen "called motherhood 'involuntary servitude.'"

House Republican Conference on Monday, March 23rd, 2009 in a blog post.

Republicans accuse nominee Johnsen of supporting abortion rights but opposing motherhood

Republicans have made it clear they're opposed to the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the White House Office of Legal Counsel. They're unhappy with her support of abortion rights, but a recent blog posting made a surprising allegation: That she said motherhood was "involuntary servitude."

We wondered if she was really was so impolitic as to attack motherhood. And if so, does she have it in for apple pie as well?

The allegation came from the Web site of the House Republican Conference:

"At least 45 House Republicans have co-signed a letter to President Barack Obama in opposition to his nomination of Dawn Johnson [sic] for the head of the Office of Legal Counsel," the site says in a blog post . The post continued: "Her brazen pro-abortion stances [include] a Supreme Court amicus brief where she called motherhood 'involuntary servitude.'"

The Republicans are referring to a 1989 brief in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, a case that tested whether states could prohibit abortions in public health institutions. Johnsen was then legal director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, one of 77 organizations to sign the brief.

Footnote 23, part of the brief that Johnsen said in a Senate hearing that she wrote, said the following: "While a woman might choose to bear children gladly and voluntarily, statutes that curtail her abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state's asserted interest. Indeed, the actual process of delivery demands work of the most intense and physical kind: labor of 12 or more grueling hours of contractions is not uncommon."

So Johnsen compared "forced pregnancy" — not motherhood — to involuntary servitude.

After we asked the Republican Conference about the claim, staffer Ericka Andersen acknowledged it was wrong. "You are correct that the post was written inaccurately," she told us in an e-mail. She corrected the post to say Johnsen "equated forced pregnancy with 'involuntary servitude.'"

Kudos to the conference for acknowledging the error. But we still find the original claim False.

About this statement:

Published: Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 4:02 p.m.

Subjects: Abortion

Sources:, ConferenceBlog, Republicans Request Obama Take Back Nomination of Dawn Johnson [sic], March 23, 2009, accessed March 24, 2009

Federal News Service, Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feb. 25, 2009

Supreme Court of the United States, William L. Webster, et al., vs. Reproductive Health Services, et al., Brief of Seventy-Seven Organizations Committed to Women's Equality as Amici Curiae in Support of Appellees, March 30, 1989

Congressional Quarterly Weekly, Confirmation Update, March 21, 2009

New York Times, Justice Dept. Nominee Avoids Confrontation at Hearing , Feb. 26, 2009, accessed March 24, 2009

New York Times, Backers Push Louisiana Abortion Bill Toward Supreme Court Test , June 24, 1990, accessed March 24, 2009

National Review Online, The Corner, I have "shocked" OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen , Feb. 26, 2009, accessed March 24, 2009

National Review Online, Lawyer's Lawyer, Radical's Radical , March 9, 2009, accessed March 24, 2009

E-mail exchange with Ericka Andersen, spokeswoman for the House Republican Conference, March 24, 2009

Written by: Alexander Lane
Researched by: Alexander Lane
Edited by: Bill Adair

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