Roe v. Wade

ROE v. WADE….David Savage has a fascinating retrospective today about Harry Blackmun and how he came to write the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. It’s based on papers opened to the public last year that show that Blackmun’s primary intent at the time was only to protect physicians who performed medically necessary abortions. Women were something of an afterthought:

Blackmun voiced disdain for feminists who said women deserved control over their bodies. “There is no absolute right to do with one’s body what you like,” he said. But he agreed that the Texas law was extreme and said it did “not go far enough to protect doctors.”

….Blackmun’s opinion ends by saying: “The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment….The abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision?. If an individual practitioner abuses the privilege of exercising proper medical judgment, the usual remedies, judicial and intra-professional, are available.”

….Burger filed a short concurrence and predicted the ruling would not have “sweeping consequences.”

Blackmun’s proposed press release also downplayed the potential effects of the ruling, stressing that it would not mean “abortion on demand.” His court colleagues convinced him that it would be inappropriate to issue a statement that commented on a ruling.

This reminds me of the Supreme Court’s suggestion in 1997 that allowing the Paula Jones suit to go to trial was “highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of petitioner’s time.” It appears that the Supreme Court itself is not always the best judge of the scope and importance of its own decisions.