Slow Burn: Roe v. Wade

Season 7: Episode 4

Roe Against Wade

How Justice Harry Blackmun became an accidental abortion rights hero.


Episode Notes

Harry Blackmun wasn’t Richard Nixon’s first choice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. But after Blackmun was confirmed, he got the assignment of a lifetime: writing the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. His approach to that case would have consequences he never imagined.

Season 7 of Slow Burn is produced by Susan Matthews, Samira Tazari, Sophie Summergrad, and Sol Werthan.

Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts.

Editorial direction by Josh Levin, Derek John, and Johanna Zorn. Merritt Jacob is our Technical Director.

Our theme music is composed by Alexis Cuadrado. Artwork by Derreck Johnson based on a photo provided by Robert Wheeler.

The season’s reporting was supported by a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists.

Sources for This Episode:


Cooper Davis, Peggy. Neglected Stories: The Constitution and Family Values, Hill and Wang, 1998.

Faux, Marian. Roe v. Wade: The Untold Story of the Landmark Supreme Court Decision that Made Abortion Legal, Scribner, 1988.

Garrow, David J. Liberty & Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade, Lisa Drew Books, 1994.

Gorney, Cynthia. Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars, Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Greenhouse, Linda. Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey, Times Books Henry Holt & Company, LLC, 2005.

Hull, N. E. H. and Peter Charles Hoffer, Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History, University Press of Kansas, 2021.

Jeffries Jr., John C. Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Scribner, 1994.

Robenalt, James. January 1973: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, and the Month That Changed America Forever, Chicago Review Press, 2015.

Weddington, Sarah Ragle. A Question of Choice: By the Lawyer Who Won Roe v. Wade, Penguin Books, 1992.

Ziegler, Mary. Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present, Cambridge University Press, 2020.


Chotiner, Isaac. “The Buried Promise of the Reconstruction Amendments,” the New Yorker, Sept. 9, 2019.

Ely, John Hart. “The Wages of Crying Wolf: A Comment on Roe v. Wade,” the Yale Law Journal, Vol. 82, No. 5 (April 1973), pp. 920-49.

Gallup, George. “Abortions Seen Up to Woman, Doctor,” Washington Post, Aug. 25, 1972.

Gorney, Cynthia. “Justice Blackmun, Off the Record,” New York Times, March 7, 1999.

Graham, Fred P. “The Court: Not Made to Be a Political Football,” New York Times, April 12, 1970.

Greenhouse, Linda. “How a Ruling on Abortion Took On a Life of Its Own,” New York Times, April 10, 1994.

Greenhouse, Linda. “Justice Blackmun, Author of Abortion Right, Dies,” New York Times, March 5, 1999.

Greenhouse, Linda. “Justice Blackmun’s Journey: From Moderate to a Liberal,” New York Times, April 7, 1994.

Haridasani Gupta, Alisha. “​​Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg Wasn’t All That Fond of Roe v. Wade,” New York Times, Sept. 21, 2020.

Lewis, Finlay. “Terms of Estrangement,” Washington Post, July 9, 1995.

Lithwick, Dahlia. “RBG’s Prophetic Warning on Roe v. Wade Went Ignored,” Slate, Sept. 22, 2020.

Prager, Joshua. “The Accidental Activist,” Vanity Fair, February 2013.

Robenalt, James D. “The unknown Supreme Court clerk who single-handedly created the Roe v. Wade viability standard,” Washington Post, Nov. 29, 2019.

Seelye, Katharine Q. “Sarah Weddington, Who Successfully Argued Roe v. Wade, Dies at 76,” New York Times, Dec. 27, 2021.

The Nation: Nixon’s Court: Its Making and Its Meaning,” Time, Nov. 1, 1971.

Weaver Jr., Warren. “Blackmun Approved, 94‐0; Nixon Hails Vote by Senate,” New York Times, May 13, 1970.

White House Sees No Delay on Court,” New York Times, Oct. 20, 1971.


Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973).

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).


Harry A. Blackmun Papers, 1913-2001. Library of Congress.

Roe v. Wade oral arguments, Oyez.

Doe v. Bolton oral arguments, Oyez.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Could a Different Roe v. Wade Decision Have Saved Abortion Rights Today?

All the theories about alternate decisions add up to the same fundamental problem.


About the Show

In the early 1970s, the future of abortion in America was far from settled. Some states were pushing to liberalize their laws. In others, women could be prosecuted for terminating a pregnancy. Unexpected and dramatic battles raged across the country, shaping the landscape of abortion—even before Roe v. Wade was decided.

For the seventh season of Slate’s Slow Burn, host Susan Matthews explores the path to Roe—a time when more Republicans than Democrats supported abortion rights. You’ll hear the forgotten story of the first woman ever to be convicted of manslaughter for having an abortion, the unlikely Catholic power couple who helped ignite the pro-life movement, and a rookie Supreme Court justice who got assigned the opinion of a lifetime.

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