Harry Blackmun’s Decision


How did Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in the most controversial Supreme Court decision in history, Roe v. Wade, divine the right to abortion from the 14th Amendment’s supposed “right to privacy,” when there simply is no right to privacy in the 14th Amendment or anywhere else in the Constitution?

Let’s pause for a moment on Roe v. Wade – a decision that opened the door to over 40 million abortions. If we’re exploring how and why judges feel perfectly justified in ignoring the Constitution’s original intent, let’s consider one illuminating little story involving Blackmun, the hero of Roe v. Wade, and his pregnant daughter.

In March 2004, when Blackmun’s private papers were finally released to the public decades after the momentous 1973 Roe decision, his daughter, Sally Blackmun, revealed something remarkable.

Talking to Womens Enews, Sally Blackmun disclosed for the first time that her father consulted with members of his family after being assigned responsibility for writing the majority opinion on Roe v. Wade.

“Roe was a case that Dad struggled with,” Blackmun told the feminist news service. “It was a case that he asked his daughters’ and wife’s opinion about.”

Most pertinent among those opinions would have been Sally’s. Seven years before Roe v. Wade, while she was a 19-year-old sophomore at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Sally Blackmun discovered she was pregnant.

“It was one of those things I was not at all proud of, that I was not at all pleased with myself about. It was a big disappointment to my parents,” she told Womens Enews. “I did what so many young women of my era did. I quit college and married my 20-year-old college boyfriend. It was a decision that I might have made differently had Roe v. Wade been around.”

The obvious question: Did U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s passion for championing abortion rights have anything at all to do with his own daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy experience and the pain, embarrassment and trauma it caused the Blackmun family? Do we need to guess what sort of advice Sally – who later became an attorney and chairwoman of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando – might have given her father? And is this how a Supreme Court decision, especially one responsible for over a million abortions ever year for three decades, is supposed to be made?


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