"The 14th Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restriction on state action . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy," Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote in Roe vs. Wade. His opinion had the support of seven of the nine justices.
Rehnquist and White, the two dissenters, have made it clear that they would overrule Roe vs. Wade if they could get the support of three colleagues. President Reagan, an avowed opponent of abortion, has since added three justices to the court, but the court has no immediate opportunity to overturn the 1973 ruling.
Early next year, however, the justices will consider whether to reinstate a Missouri law declaring that "human life begins at conception" and forbidding use of public funds, public employees or public hospitals for abortions. The Administration urged the Supreme Court to uphold the Missouri law, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the lower courts.
Fears Conservative Victory
Dawn Johnsen, legal director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said she fears that the court's conservatives, with O'Connor's vote, will uphold the Missouri law.
"She is willing to uphold regulations that are very onerous to women (who might seek abortions)," Johnsen said. "If public hospitals can't perform abortions, it will simply make it more difficult and more costly for a woman to get an abortion."
On the other side, Michael McConnell, a University of Chicago law professor and a critic of the Roe decision, said that the key issue in the Missouri case is use of public funds.
"This is like giving a small grant to South Africa," he said. "It is not the amount, but the principle of it. Millions of people think abortion is murder, and they should not be asked to help pay the cost of it."