Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The Washington March that I missed


AP Photo

I would have gone, really I would have--despite my belief that marches do more for those attending them than they do for actually changing policy. In fact, the Post yesterday quoted an academic scholar of Washington marches as saying pretty much the same thing.

"Is it going to change President Bush's mind? No. Is it going to bolster people who are already pro-choice? . . . I think yes," said Lynn G. Barber, a historian at the California State Archives in Sacramento and the author of a book on Washington marches.

However, the same story also notes that a pro-choice march 12 years ago may have, in fact, affected a Supreme Court decision:

The Supreme Court, in some ways the key institution of government on the abortion issue, has long been considered immune to the cries of protesters. Yet the antiabortion movement claims that one of its biggest marches succeeded in influencing that very institution.

Early in 1992, the Supreme Court voted to consider
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, a case that, in a divided court, constituted a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Roe, according to the recently released papers of former Supreme Court justice Harry A. Blackmun, was poised for defeat. But in a last-minute switch, Reagan-appointed Justice Anthony M. Kennedy changed his vote, and abortion rights survived, 5 to 4.

"I believe the march had an impact on their decision making," Smeal said. "What happens in the street brings [these issues] home. It impacts the temper of the times."


Then, in a very ambiguous quote, the story cites recently released oral history tapes of Justice Blackmun as saying that it was the protests both for and against the Roe decision that made him think the Court had made the right decision:

Despite dozens of demonstrations demanding abortion rights before the original Roe decision, Blackmun said he initially didn't consider the decision a monumental one. In an oral history tape, Blackmun said the demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns protesting the decision convinced him that Roe was a necessary step in the emancipation of women.

"As the furor developed and [Roe's] integrity was attacked and upheld, certainly I came to that conclusion," he said. "I think it was a step that had to be taken."


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