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Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork came under attack Friday...

By ANDREA NEAL

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork came under attack Friday for an appeals court ruling he wrote upholding a company's policy forcing women in a lead-filled workplace to be sterilized or lose their jobs.

During the fourth day of confirmation hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, told Bork the 1984 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia was a good example of the judge's insensitivity to women.

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'I must tell you it is such a shocking decision and I can't understand how you as a jurist could put women to the choice of work or be fired,' Metzenbaum said.

Bork, an appellate judge since 1982, said the ruling by a unanimous three-judge panel merely upheld a determination by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that the American Cyanamid Co., headquartered in Wayne, N.J., could not adequately reduce lead levels in one department to ensure the safety of fetuses.

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Since it was impossible to make the workplace safe, the company offered women the choice of remaining if they underwent sterilization. Five out of 30 women chose the surgery.

'That is not a pro-sterilization opinion. It is not an anti-women opinion. It is simply upholding a federal agency decision,' Bork told Metzenbaum.

'It is important to understand the context in which this case arose,' Bork added. 'The company was confronted with unattractive alternatives: Remove all women from the department ... or offer continuous employment in the department to women who were sterilized.'

'Some chose sterilization; some did not. If they had not been offered that choice, these women would have been given lower-paying jobs or they would have been discharged.'

A few hours after the exchange between Bork and Metzenbaum, the senator's office received a telegram from one of the five women who was sterilized, criticizing Bork's ruling. Metzenbaum read it into the record.

'I cannot believe that Judge Bork thinks we were glad to have the choice of getting sterilized or getting fired,' said Betty J. Riggs of Harrisville, W. Va. 'I was only 26 years old but I had to work so I had no choice.'

'It was certainly a terrible thing for that lady,' Bork responded. 'I think it was a wrenching case, a wrenching decision for her, a wrenching decision for us.'

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A joint statement issued by women's groups opposing the Bork nomination condemned the Supreme Court nominee's position on the sterilization case.

'Judge Bork's statement reflects an incomprehensible insensitivity to the plight of a woman told by her employer that she must choose between losing her job and forefeiting for all time the ability to bear children,' the statement said.

Bork said his opinion was 'not an endorsement of the sterilization policy.' He also pointed out that the opinion suggested the company's policy might be an unfair labor practice under federal anti-discrimination laws, an issue litigated in another court.

Metzenbaum, who opposed Bork's nomination shortly after it was announced by President Reagan July 1, appeared dissatisfied by Bork's explanation.

'You wrote an opinion that said it's OK for a company to achieve safety at the expense of women by preventing its female employees from ever having children,' he said. 'That's a distortion of the statute beyond recognition. It's inhumane.'

Bork told Metzenbaum he had unfairly characterized the ruling.

'It was a unanimous panel opinion,' Bork said. 'I suppose the five women who chose to stay on that job and chose sterilization, I suppose they were glad to have the choice.'

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