Blackmun Says Abortion Ruling May Be Voided

Associated Press

The author of the Supreme Court’s 15-year-old Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion warned Tuesday that the ruling could be overturned by the court in its 1988 session.

Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who wrote the 1973 decision overturning restrictive anti-abortion laws in Texas, indicated that whether the ruling is retained probably depends on how faithful new Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is to the judicial doctrine of stare decisis, which states that courts should not disturb a settled point of law.

‘You Can Count the Votes’

“The next question is: ‘Will Roe vs. Wade go down the drain?’ ” Blackmun, 79, asked a class of first-year law students at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “I think there’s a very distinct possibility that it will--this term. You can count the votes.”


In an apparent reference to Kennedy, Blackmun said: “One never knows what a new justice’s attitude toward stare decisis is.”

No abortion case is scheduled for argument before the court, but there is speculation in the legal community that the court will look for one now that the panel includes three appointees of President Reagan, a noted opponent of abortions.

Wouldn’t Change Decision

Blackmun said his majority opinion in Roe vs. Wade “has been criticized from all points of the compass,” but he would not change it much if he were to write it today. He decided the case primarily on the basis of a woman’s constitutional right to decide what to do with her body.


Blackmun said that the abortion issue, which he has addressed in many court decisions, is a “very controversial, emotional, distressful kind of litigation that has been politicized in the last few years.”

He noted the picketing by anti-abortionists around the country during the presidential campaign, saying: “I respect their opinions. I just wish they wouldn’t make a single issue out of a political campaign, but this too will pass away, as Mr. Dickens said a long time ago.”

Ruling Generates Mail

He said his abortion ruling has generated more mail than any other court opinion.


“I would say that, probably, I get a dozen letters a day, some very abusive and others, on the other side of the case, are the most lovely letters I get,” Blackmun said.

“There are some threatening materials, of course, and a good bit of it is organized. And a lot of it is tunnel vision.”