Geoffrey R. Stone: "Remembering Roe"

Remembering Roe

This week marks the forty-fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. I’m proud to say that I was there at the time. By “there,” I mean that I was a law clerk to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. when Roe was decided. Because Brennan played a critical role in helping to craft the Court’s opinion, it was a truly fascinating experience.

Many Americans today think of Roe v. Wade as a radical, left-wing decision. That was not the view at the time. By 1973, a substantial majority of Americans supported the right of a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Gallup polls at the time showed that “two out of three Americans think abortion should be a matter for decision solely between a woman and her physician.”

Moreover, three of the four justices appointed to the Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon, who had dedicating himself to appointing “conservative” justices, joined the decision. Indeed, without their support, Roe would have come out the other way. That Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell joined Justices Douglas, Brennan, Stewart and Marshall in Roe speaks volumes about the mainstream nature of the decision.

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