Documents Reveal Abortion Rights Decision Almost Overturned in 1992

Documents released to the public on Thursday reveal that abortion rights were almost overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1992. The Library of Congress released the papers of late US Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, author of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and staunch supporter of abortion rights.

In the 1992 abortion rights case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court’s 5-4 majority, led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, appeared ready to effectively overturn Roe. Blackmun’s papers revealed, however, that unknown to the court’s three anti-Roe justices, three Republican-appointed centrist justices, including Blackmun, Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter, worked together in secret to preserve Roe, successfully persuading “an anguished Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to abandon the Rehnquist majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” according to the Washington Post.

“Kennedy initially voted with the anti-Roe conservatives, giving them a majority of five, but he subsequently changed his vote to support, not eviscerate Roe,” said Nina Totenberg of NPR’s Morning Edition. “The switch came even as Rehnquist was circulating a so-called majority opinion that would have left Roe a meaningless shell.”

Blackman, nominated as a “conservative” to the court by President Nixon, expressed hope that his work had contributed to “the progress of the emancipation of women,” according to the New York Times.

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Women's eNews 2/29/04; New York Times 3/4/04; Washington Post 3/5/04; National Public Radio 3/4/04.

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