Myth: Roe v. Wade was welcomed by liberal Democrats.
Reality: While a few liberal Democrats welcomed Roe, a number of the nation’s most prominent liberals did not. Senator Ted Kennedy, whose sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was a pro-life activist, endorsed the pro-life cause in 1971 and did not change his position on abortion until 1975. The Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 1972, Sargent Shriver (husband of Eunice), was also an opponent of abortion rights at the time. The pro-life movement’s proposed Human Life Amendment, which would have protected human life from the moment of conception, received the endorsement of several liberal Democrats in Congress during the 1970s, including Senator Harold Hughes (D-IA) and Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN). Some liberals, such as Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) (a co-sponsor of one of the first Human Life Amendment proposals), coupled their opposition to the Vietnam War with opposition to abortion.
On the other hand, many Republicans, including conservatives such as Senators Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and John Tower (R-TX), as well as moderates and liberals such as Senators Howard Baker (R-TN), Lowell Weicker (R-CT), Robert Packwood (R-OR), and Jacob Javits (NY), applauded Roe, either because they were libertarian-leaning individualists who believed that the government should stay out of private medical decisions or because they believed that advancing women’s reproductive rights would be beneficial for society. TheRoe decision was written by a Nixon appointee (Justice Harry Blackmun) who viewed the ruling as an advancement of doctors’ rights, an assessment with which many other Republicans concurred.
By the late 1970s, Democrats with national political aspirations had begun to unite around an endorsement of abortion rights, but when Roe was issued, the divisions over abortion did not fall along party lines.