Communications Department

National Right to Life statement on the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Sep 4, 2005 | 2005 Press Releases

What follows is a press release from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in Washington, D.C., issued on Sunday, September 4, 2005, at 12:30 AM EDT.  For further information, call (202) 626-8825, or send e-mail to
WASHINGTON — Following the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist Saturday evening, the following statement was issued by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in Washington, D.C.. 
“Millions of pro-life Americans mourn the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.  “He dissented from the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion on demand in 1973.  He consistently voted to allow elected lawmakers to decide when and how to protect unborn human life, most recently as one of four dissenting justices who said that states should be allowed to ban partial-birth abortion.” (Stenberg v. Carhart, 2000)
Rehnquist was the last remaining member of the Supreme Court that handed down Roe v. Wade in 1973.  He was one of the two dissenters in that case, writing that the Court’s doctrine on abortion “is far more appropriate to a legislative judgment than to a judicial one,” and, “To reach its result, the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment.”
Rehnquist also dissented when the Court reaffirmed Roe in the 1992 case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood.  In that dissent, he urged that the Court abandon Roe and thereby leave the matter in the hands of elected lawmakers.  He chided the Court plurality for justifying the ruling on grounds of “stare decisis” (precedent), writing, “Our constitutional watch does not cease merely because we have spoken before on an issue; when it becomes clear that a prior constitutional interpretation is unsound we are obliged to reexamine the question. . . . [Otherwise] the most outlandish constitutional decision could survive forever . . .”
With Rehnquist’s death, the current Supreme Court is divided 6 to 2 in favor of Roe v. Wade — that is, in support of the doctrine that abortion must be allowed for any reason until “viability” (about five and one-half months), and for “health” reasons (broadly defined) even during the final three months of pregnancy.  To see a refutation of the myth that the Court has been divided 5 to 4 on Roe, see the analysis by the Annenberg Center’s here:
However, the Court has been divided 5-4 in favor of partial-birth abortion — Rehnquist voted to allow states to prohibit the method, while Justice O’Connor voted to say that Roe v. Wade prevented bans on partial-birth abortion. (Stenberg v. Carhart, 2000)
National Right to Life is the nation’s largest pro-life organization, with 50 state affiliates and approximately 3,000 local affiliates nationwide.  NRLC works through legislation and education to protect those threatened by abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.