By Bonnie Finnerty, Education Director
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 accomplished 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. He possessed a book that could be used to bolster the case. Abortion: 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 was written by National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws co-founder Larry Lader.
This particular book had 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 circulated it to the other justices before final oral arguments without being first fact-checked. He believed that among other things, this step “might well influence voting.”
The strategy worked in that six other justices joined Blackmun in the final vote on Roe. However, the 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.”
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.”
Even Blackmun himself remained uneasy with the decision, stating that the ruling might go down as one of the worst mistakes in the court’s history.
He, like Browder, had searched for answers in places where truth could not be found.
And the consequences for both Browder and for our country would be devastating.
We’re doubling up for next week. Join us in reading Chapters 9-12.
“Perhaps they realized that legal abortion could be extremely helpful to men- enabling them to escape paternity suits, years of child support, social embarrassment, and the wrath of betrayed wives.” (p. 93)
“Despite his best efforts, Harry failed to see he had embraced a well-crafted verbal mirage, mistaking it for truth.” (p. 95)