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


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

  1. 1. LAWCROSSING THE LARGEST COLLECTION OF LEGAL JOBS ON EARTH LAW STAR 1. 800.973.1177 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 wouldfiled as a class action on behalf of all women already pregnant. Where could I go for an continue to prosecute,” she said. “I don’twho were or might become pregnant and abortion?’” think he was trying to help us, but hewant the option of abortion. Wade was the did; because there was a parliamentarydistrict attorney of Dallas, TX, and the person The graduate students wanted to know if they procedural standard that said if a state lawresponsible for enforcing the anti-abortion could give out advice on birth control without was declared unconstitutional by a federalstatute,” 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 supremeWhen 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 peopleWeddington—who had only handled who were part of Planned Parenthood and Weddington and the women she wasuncontested divorces, wills, and one adoption were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for representing feared that some other case onbefore she got the Roe vs. Wade case— giving a contraceptive device to a married the subject of abortion would make it to theremembers 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 theThe 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 1973 thatthree-minute tourist section. The gold railing Weddington also found Eisenstadt vs. Baird, Weddington found out the verdict of thethat separates lawyers from laymen. The a case in which Bill Baird was arrested for case. She had just been elected to the Texaspress section. The goose quill pen. You name giving a tube of contraceptive salt to an Legislature in November of 1972 and was atit; Weddington remembers it. And the picture unmarried woman. In this case, the Supreme the state capital getting prepared to go intoshe 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, ‘Doesat the University of Texas School of Law Armed with these two cases, Weddington Ms. Weddington have a comment todaywhen 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 wasuniversity. The graduate students also ran which allowed abortion only in situations decided today.’ And my assistant said, ‘Howa 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 1969, a woman three-judge federal court and had the anti- When asked how she handled such acould not get birth control unless she abortion statue declared unconstitutional. momentous case at such a young age, (shecertified that she was within six weeks of However, the panel would not give her was only 26 at the time that she arguedmarriage,” Weddington said. “So, there were an injunction to keep Henry Wade from the case) Weddington responded witha lot of women who needed and wanted birth prosecuting. encouraging advice for young lawyers.control who didn’t meet that criteria. Thesewomen [the graduate students] were trying “You will feel in awe of the court process, “The next day, Henry Wade had a pressto tell them how to have access to prevent and you will doubt your abilities. That’s just conference and announced he didn’t carePAGE continued on back
  2. 2. LAWCROSSING THE LARGEST COLLECTION OF LEGAL JOBS ON EARTH LAW STAR 1. 800.973.1177natural,” she said. “There were certainly kept working at preparing. Whereas, he just Over the course of her life, Weddington hastimes when I was worried about how I was assumed that he had argued so many cases been a practicing attorney, a member of thegoing to do and what they were going to ask that he could do this without nearly as much Texas Legislature, General Counsel of theme, and I wanted to win. So, I was extremely effort, and he was wrong.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, assistantnervous, but that sense of nerves also to former President Jimmy Carter, anmeant 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 thelawyers.” book titled A Question of Choice, which University of Texas at Austin and travels the was published in 1992. 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 newsomething 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 oftenexperience but who sometimes try to ride say to young people thinking of law or lawon the experience and who don’t prepare as While conducting interviews for the book, students: You should think of your life as awell,” 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 lawWeddington compared the feeling she had picked her and why they had not chosen school hasn’t turned out to be at all what myon 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 wingscounsel at the onset of the arguments made “They said, ‘Well, first, we wanted a woman because it has given me the skills andher 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. “Andstarted out by saying, ‘Your Honors, when that’s how I got the case—because I was ON THE NETyou’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 Lawin Texas, the judges might have laughed a Looking back on those days, Weddington—not in the U.S. Supreme Court,” she is glad she got the chance to be involved insaid. “They did not crack a smile. And I think societal change. The Weddington Centerit really threw him, first, because he got www.weddingtoncenter.coma reaction he didn’t expect and, second, I “It was such a fabulous time in the early ‘70sdon’t think he put nearly as much time into of looking at all kinds of issues that related to McMurry Universitypreparing as I had. For one thing, I only had women and trying to say, ‘This isn’t right. We big case at the time, so I really could need to change it,’” she said. “It was a timeput endless hours into preparation; and when we weren’t just questioning the issue ofI was nervous enough about it that I just reproduction, but all kinds of issues.”PAGE