Sarah Weddington: The lawyer who argued her way to victory in Roe v Wade

Sarah Weddington, who appeared as a young attorney from Texas before the US Supreme Court to successfully argue the case Raw vs. WadeAt the age of 76, the landmark 1973 case that established a constitutional right to abortion and sparked one of the fiercest battles in the American culture wars.

Weddington was just shy about her 25th birthday when Linda Covey, a fellow recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin Law School, invited her in January 1970 to help defy the state’s ban on all abortions other than those performed to save a mother’s life. The law at the time was largely the same in most other states, leading many women to either perform illegal and often unsafe abortions in back streets or attempt the procedure on themselves.

Like her former classmate, Weddington only recently started her legal practice, freelance dealing only with uncontested divorces, wills for people without money, and adoptions (her uncle’s last object).

But both women were eager to pursue more important legal work, especially for using the law to advance reproductive rights. Although she did not reveal it publicly for several decades, Weddington traveled to Mexico to have an abortion during her final year of law school, and intimately understood the desperation of women with unwanted pregnancies. As a young attorney, she was active with a group in Texas that referred women in need of abortion to safe, reliable providers.

The adoption lawyer made coffee for the woman who became the plaintiff in Raw vs. Wade. Her name was Norma McCorvey, though she is best known by the nickname she adopted in the suit, Jane Rowe. (The defendant in the case was Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade.)

At 22, McCorvey was unencumbered by poverty and addiction. She had already had two pregnancies and did not want to continue with a third. When they meet her at a pizzeria, the two attorneys set out to convince McCorvey to take her case to court.

Weddington “He was wholesome and powerful and he made things happen!” McCorvey said years later in an interview with Joshua Prager, the journalist who chronicled her story in the recently published book Family Roe: An American Story. “I fell in love with Sarah,” she said.

Raw vs. WadeIt wasn’t the only abortion case making its way through the federal courts at the time. But it became by far the most important when it got to the Supreme Court.

Covey prepared the original lawsuit, but Weddington defended the case before Supreme Court justices. Prager wrote that the coffee was “fantastic” but “shaky”. By contrast, Weddington was polished and more comfortable in the spotlight.

I felt a mixture of feelings when I went to the Supreme Court to argue Raw vs. Wade, “Weddington, who was 26 when she first addressed the judges Texas Monthly After years. “I was afraid and felt the weight of the need to win for women. I felt the reverence of the Supreme Court and what it represented.”

But she said she was also “oppressed”.

Weddington was just shy of her 25th birthday when she was called in in January 1970 to help defy the state’s ban on abortions.


“I had gone to the bar… beforehand to review my notes,” Weddington recalls. “I discovered that the hall has a room for men only.”

When Weddington initially defended the case, in December 1971, the Supreme Court had two vacant positions. Given the importance of the question asked, the judges decided that the case should be heard by a full judicial body. And so I argued it for the second time, in October 1972, after filling the vacancies.

The 7-2 decision in Roe’s favour, written by Justice Harry Blackmon and rendered on January 22, 1973, was based on the concept of due process and what the court found a fundamental right to privacy. The ruling was later amended and subject to standing challenges, including a Mississippi law, currently before the Supreme Court, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But it had the effect of ensuring the right of generations of women to have an abortion.

McCorvey was not among these women. She gave birth to her child two and a half years before the Supreme Court ruling Raw vs. WadeAnd they gave the baby up for adoption. She later emerged as an outspoken abortion rights activist, and then in a dramatic reversal, as a born-again Christian aligned with the anti-abortion cause.

“I’m certainly sorry it gave the opposition a tool to use against the cause,” Weddington said. New York times In 1995, when McCorvey announced her transformation. “But that doesn’t really matter,” she continued. “The case was a class action.”

McCorvey was by all accounts a complex figure, a victim of constant abuse and hardship, who did not find full acceptance in either the women’s rights movement or the evangelical community. For her part, Prager said in an interview that Weddington has been a “champion” for people who support abortion rights — but she is “complicated.”

Given the length of her pregnancy, it’s unclear whether McCorvey could have had an abortion when she first met Weddington and Kofi. But in the later years of her life, McCorvey accused Weddington of failing even in trying to help her find one, and using it as a tool to win a broader victory in the women’s rights movement.

“Sarah sat across from the table at a Colombo pizza shop, and I only knew two years ago that she had the abortion herself,” McCorvey said. New York times in 1994. “When I told her then how badly I needed one, she could tell me where to go for it. But she didn’t because she needed me to be pregnant in her case.”

“I put Sarah Weddington on a pedestal like a rose petal,” McCorvey continued. “But when it was my turn, OK. Sarah saw these cuts on my wrist, my eyes swollen from crying, and the miserable person sitting across from her, and knew she was breastfed. She knew I wouldn’t get out of her world and Linda. I was so scared. It was one of the most awful times in my life “.

When McCorvey passed away in 2017, Weddington expressed bitterness toward her former client and what she described as McCorvey’s penchant for lying. thinking of Raw vs. Wade And the plaintiff who made the case possible, Weddington told Houston Chronicle It would be nice if I chose someone else.

Weddington at the 2017 Glamor Women’s Awards


Sarah Catherine Ragel was born in Abilene, Texas, on February 5, 1945, the daughter of a Methodist minister. She graduated early from high school and, at the age of 19, earned her BA in English from now McMurray University in Abilene.

Weddington tried to teach briefly, but didn’t materialize, she said, in an effort to get teens to appreciate it Beowulf. She then went to law school—after being told by the dean that it would be too difficult for a woman—and graduated in 1967, one of the few female students in her class.

Weddington revealed the miscarriage she had during law school in a 1992 memoir, choice question.

She said, “I wasn’t as sophisticated as I should have been on contraception.” Texas Monthly in 2003. “I was dating the man I later married, Ron Weddington, but I was so determined to finish law school, I wanted Ron to go to law school. There were a lot of considerations.”

Weddington wrote in her memoirs that her last thoughts before she was sedated were “I hope I don’t die, and I pray that no one finds out about this.”

Weddington, who later separated, established a law firm in Austin. While pursuing Roe’s case, she ran for the Texas House of Representatives and was elected to the first of three terms in 1972. In the legislature, she has been credited with lobbying for laws to protect the rights of rape victims and women seeking independent loans and credit.

In 1977, Weddington became general counsel for the US Department of Agriculture. The following year, then-President Jimmy Carter appointed her as a special counsel on women’s issues, a role in which she sought to advance the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

She has taught for many years at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Women’s University, and has appeared frequently on the lecture circuit, speaking on women’s rights and their role in Raw vs. Wade. She said she received great hate messages, and that sometimes it had to be accompanied by security.

Her only survivor is her brother.

In interviews over the years, Weddington has indicated with some reluctance her future obituary, and the certainty that it will hinge on the massive legal victory she achieved in her twenties.

Once, according to Prager’s book, she confided to the interviewer that he was in “momentary silence before arguing Raw vs. Wade In the Supreme Court,” before she could begin explaining questions of due process and constitutionality, her mind turned to the abortion she had only a few years earlier, when she was a young woman on the cusp of her career.

Sarah Weddington, Attorney and Member of Parliament, born February 5, 1945, died December 26, 2021

© The Washington Post

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