"The court can put its stamp of approval on the side of change and let that change develop in the political process," she said.
A similar dynamic is playing out over gay marriage and the speculation over how the Supreme Court might act on that issue.
The court decided in December to take up cases on California's constitutional ban on gay marriage and a federal law that denies to gay Americans who are legally married the favorable tax treatment and a range of health and pension benefits otherwise available to married couples.
Among the questions now is whether the justices will set a nationwide rule that could lead to the overturning of laws in more than three dozen states that currently do not allow same-sex marriage. Even some supporters of gay marriage fear that a broad ruling could put the court ahead of the nation on a hot-button social issue and provoke a backlash similar to the one that has fueled the anti-abortion movement in the years following Roe.
The court could also decide to uphold California's ban — an outcome that would not affect the District of Columbia and the 11 states that allow gay marriage.
Ginsburg did not address the pending gay marriage cases.
Asked about the continuing challenges to abortion rights, Ginsburg said that in her view Roe's legacy will ultimately hold up.
"It's not going to matter that much," she said. "Take the worst-case scenario ... suppose the decision were overruled; you would have a number of states that will never go back to the way it was."