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Ginsburg: Roe v. Wade gave abortion opponents a target

| Sunday, May 12, 2013, 5:03 p.m.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, right, discusses the Roe vs. Wade case on it's 40th anniversary with University of Chicago Law School Professor Geoffrey Stone, left, at The University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Saturday, May 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

CHICAGO — One of the most liberal members of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be expected to give a rousing defense of Roe v. Wade in reflecting on the landmark vote 40 years after it established a nationwide right to abortion.

Instead, Ginsburg told an audience on Saturday at the University of Chicago Law School that while she supports a woman's right to choose, she believes the ruling by her predecessors on the court was too sweeping and gave abortion opponents a symbol to target. Ever since, she said, the momentum has been on the other side, with anger over Roe fueling a state-by-state campaign that has placed more restrictions on abortion.

“That was my concern, that the court had given opponents of access to abortion a target to aim at relentlessly,” she told a crowd of students. “... My criticism of Roe is that it seemed to have stopped the momentum that was on the side of change.”

The ruling is also a disappointment to a degree, Ginsburg said, because it was not argued in weighty terms of advancing women's rights. Rather, the Roe v. Wade opinion, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, centered on the right to privacy and asserted that it extended to a woman's decision on whether to end a pregnancy.

Four decades later, abortion is one of the most polarizing issues in American life, and anti-abortion activists have pushed legislation at the state level in an effort to scale back the 1973 decision.

Ginsburg would have preferred that the justices had made a narrower decision that struck down only the Texas law that brought the matter before the court. That law allowed abortions only to save a mother's life.

A more restrained judgment would have sent a message while allowing momentum to build at a time when a number of states were expanding abortion rights, she said. She added that it might have denied opponents the argument that abortion rights resulted from an undemocratic process in the decision by “unelected old men.”

Ginsburg told the students that she prefers what she termed “judicial restraint” and argued that such an approach can be more effective than expansive, aggressive decisions.

“The court can put its stamp of approval on the side of change and let that change develop in the political process,” she said.

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