A Conversation about Abortion between Justice Blackmun and the Founding Fathers

By Ostler, Duane L. | Constitutional Commentary, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

A Conversation about Abortion between Justice Blackmun and the Founding Fathers


Ostler, Duane L., Constitutional Commentary


It is dark at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The historic scene where the U.S. Constitution was hammered out in the hot summer of 1787 is completely still; the chairs empty, the hall silent. The only movement in the stuffy hall is that of a cockroach scavenging for nonexistent food along the periphery of the hall, whose presence would no doubt cause the janitor to be fired for not using enough insect spray.

But hark! A sudden ghostly shadow has appeared at the President's chair! Its misty shape has an uncanny resemblance to none other than George Washington, minus his ivory teeth (since ghosts don't eat). Appearing not far to his left is James Madison, proficient note taker in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, who once more spreads out his notes, ready for action. The ghosts of other luminaries also make their entrance into the hall. There is Benjamin Franklin, his pockets full of kite string in case of a lightning storm; Thomas Jefferson, lugging the newest student enrollment list of the University of Virginia; John Adams, with a sheet of paper and pen, ready to write a quick note to Abigail about tonight's ghostly proceedings; Alexander Hamilton, carrying a wad of new ten dollar bills which he fondles deliciously. Other founders file silently into the hall, taking seats without pulling them out from the tables they face, so that their insubstantive frames are partly buried in the tables in front of them.

Last of all, another ghost arrives. However, his ghostly personage is not clad in the knee breeches and wigs worn by the other ghosts in the hall. He arrives wearing a tie and a long black robe. He wears glasses and has the appearance of being a kindly old grandfather. He is Justice Harry Blackmun.

"Gentlemen," begins President Washington, looking dispassionately on the assemblage. "We are here today to discuss abortion in America. This is not a court and we will not pass judgment. It is a discussion only." Turning toward Blackmun, he nods his head slightly. "We will commence by allowing Mr. Justice Blackmun to present his support for the Roe v. Wade decision he penned, which continues to be the primary abortion case in America. (1) You may proceed, sir."

Blackmun's ghost clears his nonexistent throat. "Distinguished founders," he says in his mild voice, "I thank you for this opportunity to present Roe v. Wade to you. As I stated in my opinion, my hope and my purpose in that case '[was] to resolve the issue of abortion by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and predilection.'" (2)

"Excuse me sir," interposes Mr. Madison from his chair. "I have been reading your subsequent decision in the 1989 case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services in which your opinion in Roe was somewhat modified in ways you did not approve. (3) You asserted that in doing so the majority had been deceptive, (4) had engaged in a tortured effort to defend its position, (5) that their reasoning was unadulterated nonsense, (6) and that they were cowardly. (7) Are you asserting that such statements uttered when you were no longer safely on the side of the majority were free of emotion or predilection?"

"Yes, well ..." mumbled Blackmun incoherently. "Let me continue and I'm sure the import of my opinion will become clear. What was at issue in Roe was a Texas law which stated that if anyone administered a drug or other means to a woman to procure an abortion, he or she could be imprisoned." (8)

"I am impressed with this new State of Texas," said Alexander Hamilton, rising to his feet. A crisp, new ten dollar bill was pinned to his outer cloak. "This law sounds almost the same as the 1716 law of my home City of New York, which made it illegal for a midwife or anyone attending a pregnant woman to 'administer any herb medicine or potion or any other thing to any woman being with child whereby she should destroy or miscarry."' (9)

Blackmun's eyes bulged at the revelation of this law that predated his Roe opinion by 257 years. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Conversation about Abortion between Justice Blackmun and the Founding Fathers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.