Sarah Weddington: Professor, University of Texas at Austin, TX

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                           Sarah Weddington: Professor, University of Texas at
                           Austin, TX
                           [By Charisse Dengler]
                           Everyone has heard of Roe vs. Wade ; but who exactly was Roe, and who was Wade? Sarah Weddington knows. In
                           fact, as the attorney who represented and won the case on behalf of Roe, Weddington probably knows more about the
                           case than anyone does.




“Roe was an unmarried pregnant woman who           pregnancy; and some women said, ‘I’m             what any federal court said, he would
filed as a class action on behalf of all women     already pregnant. Where could I go for an        continue to prosecute,” she said. “I don’t
who were or might become pregnant and              abortion?’”                                      think he was trying to help us, but he
want the option of abortion. Wade was the                                                           did; because there was a parliamentary
district attorney of Dallas, TX, and the person    The graduate students wanted to know if they     procedural standard that said if a state law
responsible for enforcing the anti-abortion        could give out advice on birth control without   was declared unconstitutional by a federal
statute,” Weddington explained.                    being arrested, and they came to Weddington      court but it is continuing to be enforced,
                                                   with their concerns. She took their questions    there is a direct appeal to the us supreme
When asked to describe that historic               to the law library and found Griswold vs.        court.”
day in front of the U.S. Supreme Court,            Connecticut, a case involving two people
Weddington—who had only handled                    who were part of Planned Parenthood and          Weddington and the women she was
uncontested divorces, wills, and one adoption      were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for     representing feared that some other case on
before she got the Roe vs. Wade case—              giving a contraceptive device to a married       the subject of abortion would make it to the
remembers every detail.                            couple. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled    Supreme Court before theirs; so they were
                                                   that married couples had the right to privacy    elated when they got the telegram saying the
The heavy, red velvet curtains you walk            in regard to having children or not having       court was accepting Roe vs. Wade.
through to come into the courtroom. The            children.
                                                                                                    It wasn’t until early January 973 that
three-minute tourist section. The gold railing
                                                   Weddington also found Eisenstadt vs. Baird,      Weddington found out the verdict of the
that separates lawyers from laymen. The
                                                   a case in which Bill Baird was arrested for      case. She had just been elected to the Texas
press section. The goose quill pen. You name
                                                   giving a tube of contraceptive salt to an        Legislature in November of 972 and was at
it; Weddington remembers it. And the picture
                                                   unmarried woman. In this case, the Supreme       the state capital getting prepared to go into
she paints is one of awe and grandeur.
                                                   Court ruled that every individual had a right    session.
                                                   to privacy in regard to birth control.
Weddington was working for a professor
                                                                                                    “The phone rang, and a reporter said, ‘Does
at the University of Texas School of Law
                                                   Armed with these two cases, Weddington           Ms. Weddington have a comment today
when she was approached by a group of
                                                   told the graduate students she believed they     about Roe vs. Wade?’ And my assistant said,
women who were graduate students at the
                                                   could challenge Texas’ anti-abortion statute,    ‘Should she?’ The reporter said, ‘It was
university. The graduate students also ran
                                                   which allowed abortion only in situations        decided today.’ And my assistant said, ‘How
a counseling service that advised women on
                                                   where the woman’s life was jeopardized.          was it decided?’ And the words came back,
how and where to get birth control.
                                                                                                    ‘She won it, 7 to 2,’” Weddington said.
                                                   Weddington then brought the case before a
“At the University of Texas in 969, a woman
                                                   three-judge federal court and had the anti-      When asked how she handled such a
could not get birth control unless she
                                                   abortion statue declared unconstitutional.       momentous case at such a young age, (she
certified that she was within six weeks of
                                                   However, the panel would not give her            was only 26 at the time that she argued
marriage,” Weddington said. “So, there were
                                                   an injunction to keep Henry Wade from            the case) Weddington responded with
a lot of women who needed and wanted birth
                                                   prosecuting.                                     encouraging advice for young lawyers.
control who didn’t meet that criteria. These
women [the graduate students] were trying                                                           “You will feel in awe of the court process,
                                                   “The next day, Henry Wade had a press
to tell them how to have access to prevent                                                          and you will doubt your abilities. That’s just
                                                   conference and announced he didn’t care


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natural,” she said. “There were certainly        kept working at preparing. Whereas, he just         Over the course of her life, Weddington has
times when I was worried about how I was         assumed that he had argued so many cases            been a practicing attorney, a member of the
going to do and what they were going to ask      that he could do this without nearly as much        Texas Legislature, General Counsel of the
me, and I wanted to win. So, I was extremely     effort, and he was wrong.”                          U.S. Department of Agriculture, assistant
nervous, but that sense of nerves also                                                               to former President Jimmy Carter, an
meant that it became the priority for my life;   Years after the case, Weddington compiled           author, and a professor, among other things.
and I spent endless hours working on the         her experiences with the case and interviews        Currently, she teaches courses on gender-
case, researching the case, talking to other     with the people who were involved into a            based discrimination and leadership at the
lawyers.”                                        book titled A Question of Choice, which             University of Texas at Austin and travels the
                                                 was published in 992. At the time that the         globe speaking on issues concerning women
“So, I almost think being nervous about          book was published, she felt it was crucial         and leadership. She’s also working on a new
something like that causes you to prepare so     to appeal to people on behalf of pro-choice         book tentatively titled Memoirs of a Leader.
thoroughly and often more than the lawyers       candidates that were running for office,
on the other side, who may have more             including Bill Clinton.                             “I’ve been very lucky,” she said. “I often
experience but who sometimes try to ride                                                             say to young people thinking of law or law
on the experience and who don’t prepare as       While conducting interviews for the book,           students: You should think of your life as a
well,” she said.                                 Weddington asked the women who originally           series of course corrections, because even
                                                 came to her with the case why they had              what I thought I would do when I was in law
Weddington compared the feeling she had          picked her and why they had not chosen              school hasn’t turned out to be at all what my
on that day to the Biblical scene of David       someone with more experience.                       life has been.”
and Goliath, but a blunder by her opposing                                                           “I call law the wind beneath my wings
counsel at the onset of the arguments made       “They said, ‘Well, first, we wanted a woman         because it has given me the skills and
her feel a little bit better.                    lawyer, and you were the only one we’d ever         information that have allowed me to do so
                                                 heard of; and second, we needed somebody            many different things,” she said.
“The person who was arguing for the state        who’d do it for free,’” Weddington said. “And
started out by saying, ‘Your Honors, when        that’s how I got the case—because I was             ON THE NET
you’re here arguing against two beautiful        willing to do it for free.”
women, you’re in a difficult position.’ Now,                                                         University of Texas School of Law
in Texas, the judges might have laughed a        Looking back on those days, Weddington              www.utexas.edu/law
little—not in the U.S. Supreme Court,” she       is glad she got the chance to be involved in
said. “They did not crack a smile. And I think   societal change.                                    The Weddington Center
it really threw him, first, because he got                                                           www.weddingtoncenter.com
a reaction he didn’t expect and, second, I       “It was such a fabulous time in the early ‘70s
don’t think he put nearly as much time into      of looking at all kinds of issues that related to   McMurry University
preparing as I had. For one thing, I only had    women and trying to say, ‘This isn’t right. We      www.mcm.edu/newsite/web
one big case at the time, so I really could      need to change it,’” she said. “It was a time
put endless hours into preparation; and          when we weren’t just questioning the issue of
I was nervous enough about it that I just        reproduction, but all kinds of issues.”




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Description: Weddington was working for a professor at the University of Texas School of Law when she was approached by a group of women who were graduate students at the university.
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