Sarah Weddington Talks to Barney
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
By Barney Brantingham
She Won Roe v. Wade: Sarah Weddington was just 27, and the youngest
person ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, when she
faced the nine male justices in the case of Roe v. Wade. Their 7-2
vote, announced January 22, 1973, invalidated all laws anywhere in
the nation that made abortion illegal.
(Abortion was already legal in California due to a law signed in 1967
by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who later, while president, opposed Roe v. Wade.)
"If anybody had said to me, 'You will still be talking about this in
35 years,' I would never have believed that," Weddington told me on
Betty Stephens' sunny Hope Ranch patio the other day.
Yet it's still being argued far and wide and Weddington predicts that
it will be one of the key 2008 presidential campaign issues, along
with the war and the economy. The question hovers: Will Roe v. Wade
be overturned now that the court seems to have a majority, or near
majority to do so? But she said Roe v. Wade is not in jeopardy this
year, because no case challenging it is poised to come before the
Supreme Court in 2008.
Weddington, who still lives in Austin, Texas, where she was living
back then, believes that at least one justice is likely to retire in
the next four years, giving whomever is president a key appointment
to the court.
The Republican presidential nominee-apparent, Sen. John McCain, is
anti-choice, while Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack
Obama are pro-choice.
Was this beautiful young lawyer frightened when she faced the
justices? "Scared? Of course. If you're not scared you're not sensible."
The anonymous "Roe" in the case, who claimed she had been raped,
never had an abortion and gave birth to a child before the case was
decided. Opponents of Roe v. Wade have objected that the decision
lacked a solid Constitutional basis. In recent years, "Roe," Norma
McCorvey, has joined the anti-abortion movement and barnstormed the
nation speaking against the decision. She moved to reopen the case
but a court refused, saying that it was moot.
Weddington, a University of Texas law school graduate, was elected to
the Texas legislature in late 1972 and was sitting in her office a
few weeks later when the New York Times called with the astonishing
news. She'd won. Women had won.
Weddington was re-elected three times before leaving to become the
first woman general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture
under President Jimmy Carter. "I did a lot of work trying to save
wild and scenic rivers." Then she went to the White House as an
assistant to the president. "Then Carter lost and we left."
Looking back, the soft-spoken Weddington said, "It was a time when
women were challenging restrictions and opening opportunities. I was
part of that generation. Women couldn't even get a credit card in
their own names. At the University of Texas (in the mid-1960s) the
policy was that no woman could be given birth control unless it was
within six weeks of a wedding date."
She started out as a primary school teacher but soon saw her future
as an attorney. She wrote a 1992 book about the case: A Question of
Choice: The Lawyer Who Won Roe v. Wade, and spends her time lecturing
and teaching at the U of Texas.
Barney Brantingham can be reached at email@example.com or (805) 965-5205.