Roe vs. Wade: The Remarkable Shelf Life of a Lie

Opinion   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 28, 2012   |   7:39PM   |   Washington, DC

“Truth matters. The entire edifice of U.S. abortion law is constructed on lies and deceptions–lies about when life begins, the scope of ‘privacy’ in the Constitution, the meaning of the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, about applicable (but ignored) precedents, and, significantly, about the history of abortion law and practice.” — From “Refuting the Myths of Abortion History,” by Susan Wills, Ph.D., which appeared in the January 2006 issue of National Right to Life News.

In just 27 days we will [I hate to use the word but….]commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a decision in which Justice Harry Blackmun channeled the zaniest arguments of the Abortion Lobby to foist upon us the catastrophe that is Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton.

For the last few weeks, each day I’ve been offering a least one reflection on Roe’s poisonous legacy. Today, NRL News Today will provide two.

Abortion History Myths: The Sequel” was written by Susan Wills, one of my favorite pro-life contributors. It was the second of a two-part review of Joseph Dellapenna’s massive “Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History.” If I may say so, Susan’s contributions are must-reading, as is Prof. Dellapenna’s incredibly detailed history of abortion.

In this post, I’d like to say just a few words about Justin Dyer’s “Fictional Abortion History,” which you can find at National Review’s webpage. Dyer, who teaches political science at the University of Missouri, uses two relatively new books which rely on the orthodox pro-abortion history written by New York Law school Professor Cyril Means. (Prof. Dellapenna just eviscerates Means’s nonsense.)

Means, as Dyer notes, was counsel for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), “who took the lead in drafting the new abortion history in the 1960s.” That took the particular form of a 1968 article published in the New York Law Forum.

The gist of the “new abortion history” is that abortion was “(1) a common-law liberty at the time of the American founding and (2) the primary purpose of anti-abortion laws in the 19th century was to protect women rather than the lives of unborn children.” Neither was true, as most objective observers know.

I thought I knew the background pretty well—the role Means’ arguments made (Blackmun cited his work seven times in Roe). What I didn’t know until I read Dyer is that the team pushing to overturn the abortion laws, lead by Sarah Weddington, likely also knew that Means was grinding out propaganda, not accurately recording history. Dyer writes

“The problem (as Weddington almost certainly knew) is that Means’s central claims were not true. In a memo circulated among Roe’s legal team in the summer of 1971, a Yale law student named David Tundermann warned that Means’s ‘conclusions sometimes strain credibility.’”

What really rocks you is what (as Dyer described it) “Tundermann tellingly concluded”:

“Where the important thing to do is to win the case no matter how, however, I suppose I agree with Means’s technique: begin with a scholarly attempt at historical research; if it doesn’t work out, fudge it as necessary; write a piece so long that others will read only your introduction and conclusion; then keep citing it until the courts begin picking it up. This preserves the guise of impartial scholarship while advancing the proper ideological goals.”

Take the time to read Dyer’s post at He does a great job of demonstrating how this bogus narrative has been carefully nurtured by scholars who should have—or could have—known better.



Here is Dyer’s conclusion:

“The suggestion — still made today by credentialed historians, legal scholars, and respected journalists — that protecting the lives of the unborn was not the purpose of the abortion statutes overturned by the Supreme Court in 1973 is absurd. Although the role of history in abortion litigation has quietly faded to the background in the Court’s most recent abortion cases, it bears noting that the politically motivated abortion history crudely constructed by activists and academics in the 1960s and 1970s has enjoyed a remarkable shelf life. Forty years after Roe v. Wade, as we debate the legacy of the decision and consider the state of abortion politics, it is time to lay to rest this fraudulent history — a history that would be far less tragic if it did not involve matters of life and death.” Note: Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life News and an author and editor of several books on abortion topics. This post originally appeared in his Natioanl Right to Life News Today.