Today In Legal History: Roe v. Wade Decided

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued one of the most famous and controversial legal decisions of our era.  Justice Harry Blackmun authored the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.  At the time, news of the decision was pushed off the front page of many newspapers when former President Lyndon B. Johnson died on the same day.  President Nixon had appointed Blackmun only three years before, thinking he would be a “quiet, safe choice.”  The Roe v. Wade decision, however, threw Blackmun into the limelight, where he was alternately adored or hated.

In his recent biography of Blackmun, Tinsley E. Yarbrough focuses on Blackmun’s concerns for “outsiders,” an attitude fueled in part by his own self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, having grown up with a regularly unemployed father and anxious mother, in the humbler area of St. Paul, MN.  Reflecting on his initial days at the Court, Blackmun later confessed desperately wondering if he was qualified to grace the position.

More information is available at:

  • Tinsley E. Yarbrough, Harry A. Blackmun: The Outsider Justice, Law Library 4th floor @ KF8745.B555Y37 2008.
  • Jack M. Balkin, What Roe v. Wade Should Have Said: The Nation’s Top Legal Experts Rewrite America’s Most Controversial Decision, Law Library 4th floor @ KF228.R59W47 2005.
  • Marian Faux, Roe v. Wade: The Untold Story of the Landmark Supreme Court Decision that Made Abortion Legal, Law Library 4th floor @ KF228.R59F38 1988.


Roe v. Wade 40 Years Later

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court published its decision in Roe v. Wade, making most early term abortions a constitutional right. Although abortion rights issues continue to divide Americans over forty years after the decision, a report  published this month by the Pew Research Center concludes that the public remains opposed to overturning the Supreme Court’s decision.

According to the data gathered in 2011 and 2012, slightly more than half (54%) of Americans think abortion should be legal.  In looking at views by religious affiliation, the survey reports that nearly 2/3 of white evangelical Protestants and Mormons, and roughly half of Hispanic Catholics think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.  On the other hand, the majority of Jews, Americans with no religious affiliation, white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants and White Catholics say abortion should be legal in most cases.