He said federal health and safety officials determined that the company was unable to lower the lead levels sufficiently to protect fetuses. Rather than fire the women or transfer them to safer, lower-paying jobs, Bork continued, they were given the choice of sterilization.
"My opinion is not an endorsement of sterilization. It is not an anti-woman opinion," Bork said. He also pointed out that then-judge and now Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia joined Bork in that unanimous ruling by a three-judge federal court.
Later, Metzenbaum read from a telegram he said he had just received from one of the women who did decide to accept sterilization.
"I cannot believe that Judge Bork thinks we were glad to have the choice of getting sterilized or getting fired. Only a judge who knows nothing about women who need to work could say that," said the telegram signed by Betty Riggs of Parrisville, W. Va.
There were also moments of levity.
Bork, recalling views he had expressed as a college professor, wryly alluded to the storm of controversy his appointment by President Reagan has generated.
"If professors were paid to be provocative and speculative, I was underpaid," he said.
Bork also evoked laughter when he rebutted an earlier charge that his economic theories would mean ruin for discount stores. He said, "I spend a lot of my time looking for discount stores. I would not do anything that would wipe out discount stores."
Bork, in his fourth day of testimony, matched the apparent record for such questioning, set by Abe Fortas in 1968 in President Johnson's unsuccessful effort to promote Fortas from associate justice to chief justice.
The last two nominees to be denied Senate confirmation, Clement Haynsworth in 1969 and G. Harrold Carswell in 1970, each testified for two days. In often stormy sessions last year, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist testified for two days before his eventual confirmation.
Supreme Court nominees have been appearing before the committee only since 1939.