“Subverted:” The Propaganda that fueled Roe v. Wade

By Bonnie Finnerty, Education Director, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation

The following is the fourth installment in our weekly blog on Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution to Highjack the Women’s Movement by Sue Ellen Browder. 

The longing for truth is etched on the human heart, leading us to search in all kinds of places for it. Yet, often, we are left dissatisfied. 

Such was the case with two very different people, a man and a woman, in the early 1970’s: a struggling freelance writer and an Supreme Court Justice. 

Unknown to one another, they were both exploring the same questions regarding women and equality.  

Sue Ellen Browder admits in her memoir Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution to Highjack the Women’s Movement that she sought answers in Abraham Maslow’s humanistic psychology of “self-as-God” and in Germaine Greer’s “fearlessness” as the path to true freedom. Consequently, with disregard to her own moral compass, she threw herself into her career, certain it was there she would find true self-fulfillment. 

Around the same time, Justice Harry Blackmun, a Republican, Methodist, and family man, struggled for months to write the majority opinion for Roe vs. Wade. His first draft was roundly rejected by liberal colleagues who considered it too weak an argument for abortion. Blackmun vowed to come up with a stronger legal opinion.

His 28 year-old law clerk, known for his excellent writing skills, would come to his rescue. Browder writes that the clerk was in possession of a powerful tool that could be used to bolster the case.

The book entitled Abortion was written by National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws co-founder Larry Lader. It had a far lengthier subtitle: “The first authoritative and documented report on the laws and practices governing abortion in the U.S. and around the world, and how-for the sake of women everywhere-they can and must be reformed. “ 

It was this particular book that convinced National Organization for Women president Betty Friedan to insert an abortion platform into the women’s movement. It would be footnoted in Blackmun’s majority opinion no less than seven times. The problem, however, was that it was far more propaganda than fact. 

Browder writes, “For when Blackmun accepted Larry Lader, a mere magazine writer, as a reliable authority on history, philosophy, and theology, he became a blind man following a blind guide.”

A newly crafted opinion was finalized on August 10, 1972 and in a highly unusual move, Blackmun’s law clerk proposed to circulate to the other justices before final oral arguments without being fact-checked. The Blackmun papers which Browder used as a source for her research indicate that the clerk believed this step “might well influence voting.” 

Blackmun was accused by pro-abortion historian David Garrow of ceding “far too much of his judicial authority to his clerks,” to a degree that was “indefensible.”

Six other justices joined Blackmun in the final vote on Roe. However, the legal opinion itself was widely criticized in the legal world.  One law professor and well-known abortion supporter, John Hart Ely, called the opinion “bad,” saying, “it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

Even Blackmun himself remained uneasy with the decision. In a 1974 statement to the Washington Post, he said the Roe v. Wade ruling will be regarded “as one of the worst mistakes in the court’s history, or one of its great decisions, a turning point.”

We now know, at the cost of more than 62 million lives and counting, the former is true. 

Blackmun, like Browder, was searching for answers in places where truth could not be found.  

And the consequences for both Browder and for our country would be devastating.