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Slow Burn: Roe v. Wade

Season Seven of Slow Burn, hosted by Susan Matthews, is about what lead up to the Roe v. Wade court case and the trial itself. In the podcast, you learn about key figures of the women’s liberation movement, such as Shirley Wheeler and Ann Hill. Matthews describes the battle legalizing abortion on state and ultimately federal levels. She talks about the important role Justice Harry Blackmun played in deciding the Roe v. Wade case. This is a well researched and interesting podcast that I highly recommend.   

Episode one begins with the story of Shirley Wheeler. Wheeler was arrested and convicted of manslaughter after having an abortion in Florida. She was sentenced to two years probation. Matthews provides a narration of Wheeler’s difficult life and how she was forced to carry her first pregnancy that was the result of rape. When she got pregnant again, she got an abortion out of concern for her health.  An off duty police officer reported her abortion to the authorities and Wheeler was arrested. When news about her story spread, women’s liberation and abortion rights groups advocated on her behalf. As a result of national outrage, Wheeler’s case was overturned. This is a moving story that shows the immorality of making abortions illegal. 

Ann Hill was a lawyer in Connecticut that fought for abortion in her home state. In the podcast, Hill describes her horrific experience of getting an abortion, which was illegal at that time. It was motivation for her to make abortion legal in her home state. Hill, along with women lawyers such as Nancy Stearns, filed a lawsuit against prohibiting abortions. There were 2,000 plaintiffs that were women from various ages. Though they faced challenges with changing legislation against abortion in Connecticut, Hill and Stearns won their case (know as Abele v. Markle). The last obstacle would be having their case appealed to the Supreme Court, which would be argued after the Roe v. Wade case. This is a fascinating story of a case that was a precursor to Roe v. Wade.

The episode about Roe v. Wade begins with a discussion of Supreme Court Justices at the time of the trial. Matthews focuses on Harry Blackmun who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1971. Though Blackmun was conservative, he believed in the legality of abortion and his previous work at the Mayo Clinic made him look at abortions as a medical procedure. He believed that Jane Roe, the plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade case, had the right to have an abortion. Roe was denied an abortion in Texas and carried her pregnancy to term. The baby was then given up for adoption. Roe won her case and Blackmun wrote the majority decision. This episode is an interesting look at the dynamics of the Supreme Court at the time of Roe v. Wade and why Roe won her case.   

Slow Burn does an excellent job of describing abortion cases on the state level which lead up to Roe v. Wade. Matthews smoothly articulates the reason why judges and Supreme Court Justices believed in the legality of abortion. With Roe v. Wade being overturned in June of this year, this is a relevant podcast to listen to.

You can listen to Slow Burn on the Slate website or podcast apps such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more. On the Slate website, there are transcriptions of the episodes and articles about what is discussed.

Michael Walsh

Adult Services-Will Branch