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Docs: Roberts Suggested Memorial for Aborted Fetuses

As a young lawyer in the Reagan White House, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (search) concluded that a group's memorial service for aborted fetuses was "an entirely appropriate means of calling attention to the abortion tragedy."

Roberts' wrote the advice in an October, 1985 memo after he was asked to review a proposed telegram from President Reagan to the memorial service promoted by the California Pro Life Medical Association.

"The president's position is that the fetuses were human beings, or at least cannot be proven not to have been, and accordingly a memorial service would seem an entirely appropriate means of calling attention to the abortion tragedy," wrote Roberts.

Roberts, during his confirmation hearing to be a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, had referred to Roe v. Wade (search), the case that legalized abortion in the United States, as "settled law." Senate Democrats have been aggressively seeking the nominee's innermost thoughts on the 1973 abortion ruling by the Supreme Court, and the documents released Tuesday shed more light on it.

The memorial service came at the end of a three-year battle over how to dispose of some 16,000 fetuses discovered in February 1982 in sealed plastic bags of formaldehyde and stored in a bin outside the California home of a man who had managed a medical laboratory. The then-closed laboratory routinely examined aborted fetuses for clinics and hospitals.

The Feminist Women's Health Center of Los Angeles, which endorsed women's right to abortion, had sued to stop Los Angeles county from giving the fetuses to the Catholic League for religious burial.

The dispute reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld lower court decisions that the county could bury or cremate the fetuses but could not arrange or join in religious services.

Other documents showed that Roberts, 50, in 1985 voiced support for the notion of allowing prayer in public schools, writing that a ruling to the contrary "seems indefensible" under the Constitution.

As a young Reagan administration lawyer, he wrote he would have no objection if the Justice Department wanted to express support for a constitutional amendment permitting prayer.

Referring to a Supreme Court ruling issued earlier that year that struck down an Alabama school prayer law, he said, "The conclusion ... that the Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection -- or even silent 'prayer' -- seems indefensible."

The Alabama law, ruled unconstitutional by a divided court, mandated a one-minute period of silence for meditation or prayer.

Roberts' two-paragraph memo, written to White House counsel Fred Fielding, was among nearly 5,400 pages of records released by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. They comprise a portion of the material relating to Roberts' tenure as a member of the office of White House counsel.

An additional 478 pages that cover the same subject areas remain under seal, according to Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States. White House spokesman Steve Schmidt said the library had withheld material based on requirements in the Freedom of Information Act to protect privacy and national security.

The White House "did not hold any back" after reviewing those cleared for release by the library, Schmidt said.

The library contains an additional 40,000 pages relating to Roberts, expected to be made public before Senate confirmation hearings convene Sept. 6.