WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he will not insist that his coming nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court pass any "litmus test" of supporting a woman's right to have an abortion but made clear he will choose a candidate who will consider personal privacy and women's rights.
"That's going to be something that's very important to me," Obama said in response to a question about a continued open access to abortion. The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that laws restricting that right violated women's privacy rights. Open access to abortions remains a highly contentious subject in U.S. politics.
"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.
Traditionally, Obama's Democrats have more favorable positions toward abortion than the opposition Republicans.
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.
The president noted that the debate over abortion rights has long divided the country, and he chose a response that did not box him in. At the same time, Obama underscored his belief in a right to privacy.
The president is in the midst of considering a nominee to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, who will leave the high court this summer.
"I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is, I don't have litmus tests around any of these issues," Obama told reporters. "But I will say that I want somebody who will be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights. And that includes women's rights."
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's confirmation process. Seated with him were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Sen. Jeff Sessions, 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.
Obama said he plans to nominate someone by the end of May at the latest, but hopefully sooner, as is widely expected.