February 14, 2012 — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday questioned the high court's timing on its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion nationwide, the AP/Wall Street Journal reports. "It's not that the judgment was wrong, but it moved far too fast," Ginsburg said during a symposium at Columbia Law School.
At the time of the Roe decision, abortion was allowed for any reason in four states, legal under limited circumstances in about 16 others and illegal under nearly all circumstances in the other states. In Texas, where Roe originated, abortion was allowed only to save a woman's life, according to the AP/Journal.
Ginsburg suggested that the justices could have delayed hearing an abortion case until the issue evolved more at the state level. Alternatively, they could have struck down the Texas law without establishing a right to privacy that legalized abortion services nationwide.
"The court made a decision that made every abortion law in the country invalid, even the most liberal," Ginsburg said, adding, "We'll never know whether I'm right or wrong ... things might have turned out differently if the court had been more restrained" (AP/Wall Street Journal, 2/10).
Ginsburg Pushed for Lesser-Known Case
In Salon, Irin Carmon writes that Ginsburg's participation in the forum not only marked 40 years since she became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School, it coincided with the 40th anniversary of a brief she filed with the Supreme Court "for a case she wishes had established the abortion right instead of Roe v. Wade."
The case involved a female Air Force captain who became pregnant in 1970 and wanted to place the child for adoption and return to work, but the Air Force said she had to either have an abortion or leave her post. Ginsburg said that if the Supreme Court heard the case before Roe, she thought it would have been more favorable for the goals of women's equality because the woman's "choice was birth." She added, "If you read the decision [in Roe], it's as much about the doctor's right to recommend to his patient what he thinks his patient needs. It's always about the woman in consultation with her physician and not the woman standing alone in that case" (Carmon, Salon, 2/13).