Sarah Weddington, the attorney who successfully argued the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, grew up at a time in 1960’s America when women didn’t have a lot of options.
At her high school, women were not allowed to play full-court basketball. When she persisted, her physical education instructor responded: “All that jiggling and moving – you have to protect your innards. That is your meal ticket.”
On Feb. 12, Weddington, 68, spoke at the University of Miami Storer Auditorium in a lecture titled: “Some Leaders are Born Women!” The event was hosted by the University of Miami School of Law, Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ), the Department of Student Activities and the Division of Student Affairs.
“It was wonderful to have Sarah speak with our students,” said Janet Stearns, Dean of Students at Miami Law. “She is an example of someone who took a huge risk on behalf of women very early in her career and had a tremendous impact.”
Prior to graduating magna cum laude as an English major from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, Weddington approached the dean about her idea of going to law school. She was told “women don’t go to law school – it’s too tough.”
Weddington went on to become one of five women among 125 students entering the class of 1967 at the University of Texas Law School. After Roe v. Wade, she was elected to three terms in the Texas House of Representatives and later served as Assistant to President Jimmy Carter, working on women’s issues and leadership outreach.
During her talk, Weddington expressed the burden she felt to competently represent the right of all American women to make their own choices.
In her book, A Question of Choice, Weddington describes that choice when, during her third year of law school, she faced an unwanted pregnancy which led her to a Mexican border town for an abortion. Weddington considers herself “one of the lucky ones,” citing that, while her procedure was safe, countless other women suffered botched abortions, sometimes as a result of performing abortions themselves.
However, the hard-earned victory on abortion she helped achieve could someday be reversed, Weddington warned.
Weddington described her disbelief that, 40 years later, she is still talking about this issue. Threatening Roe, according to Weddington, is the potential election of a president who opposes abortion with the power to nominate anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court and states’ increasing restriction on legal abortion.
During last year’s election campaign, abortion rights and contraception access were hot-button issues, with Missouri Republican Todd Akin stating in a local news interview that “the female body has ways to try to shut [a ‘legitimate’ rape] down.”
In addition, conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh, declared Georgetown Law School student, Sandra Fluke, a “slut” and a “prostitute” for supporting birth control coverage by health insurance at religious institutions.
Catherine Kaiman, a JD/MPH candidate and president of LSRJ, said Weddington’s success in winning Roe v. Wade should never be forgotten.
“(Still), there is a constant battle over reproductive freedom.” Kaiman said. “Forty years after Roe, the ongoing conflict regarding contraception coverage is indicative of how reproductive issues are always front and center in our nation’s politics and consistently under siege.”
Weddington, though, is hopeful for the future – as long as new leaders can be found to replace the passing of women’s rights advocates such as Lady Bird Johnson, Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary Liz Carpenter, politician Ann Richards, former congreswoman Barbara Jordan, and political satirist Molly Ivins.
“I miss them all,” Weddington said. “There has to be a new generation to take over.”
words_jessica giraldo. photo_catharine skipp/miami law