O’Connor’s Colleagues Split on Abortion Issue


On April 28, the Supreme Court will meet in a private conference room to decide a case that could redefine the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that made abortion legal. The court will determine if a federal appeals court in St. Louis acted correctly in striking down as unconstitutional a Missouri law that imposed certain restrictions on abortion.

The position of only one justice, 59-year-old Sandra Day O’Connor, remains difficult to predict. Although she has sharply criticized the court’s recent pro-abortion rulings, she has also passed up opportunities to call for overturning Roe vs. Wade.

The other eight justices divide evenly into two camps, those who have supported Roe vs. Wade and those who have criticized it:


SUPPORTERS William J. Brennan Jr., who will celebrate his 83rd birthday next week, is considered the court’s senior liberal. Brennan believes that the Constitution protects a woman’s privacy from interference by state officials. He is almost certain to agree with the lower court ruling striking down the Missouri law.

Thurgood Marshall, 80, is a liberal ally of Brennan. He is expected to stand behind the court’s past support of the right to choose an abortion.

Harry A. Blackmun, author of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling, has been vilified for years by anti-abortion activists. The 80-year-old justice has become the court’s most passionate supporter of the pro-choice cause.

John Paul Stevens, 69, is often unpredictable, but the bow-tied justice has cast a staunch pro-choice vote in recent years.

OPPONENTS Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was a dissenter in Roe vs. Wade, and he has held strictly to the view that there is no constitutional right to abortion. Rehnquist, 64, is almost certain to vote to reinstate the Missouri law.

Byron R. White, 71, also dissented in the original Roe ruling. He has argued that the right to an abortion should be overturned.


Antonin Scalia, 53, is a conservative intellectual who criticized the Roe decision before joining the high court in 1986.

Anthony M. Kennedy, former President Ronald Reagan’s most recent appointee, joined the court last year and has not voted in an abortion case. But Kennedy, 52, has joined his conservative colleagues in every important ruling in the last year and, like Rehnquist, favors a narrow reading of constitutional rights.