Women You Missed in History Class: Sarah Weddington

SARAH WEDDINGTON
Sarah Weddington (1945- )

Sarah Weddington didn’t envision herself becoming a lawyer.  She had every intention of becoming an English teacher, but after college decided to go to law school instead.  She remembers being “encouraged” by the dean of her college, “who told me that it would be far too tough for a woman. ‘As sure as dammit I am going,’ I thought.”  Weddington was born February 5, 1945, and grew up in Abilene, Texas.  In high school, she was president of her high school’s Future Homemakers of America because, as she said, “That was one of the few things that a woman could be president of, so I was.”  She graduated from high school two years early, and then went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in English from McMurry University.  In 1964, she started law school at the University of Texas.  There were only five women in her law school class of 120 students, and only 40 women in the entire school of 1,600 students.

After graduating from law school, Weddington found it difficult to find a job as a lawyer.  She interviewed at a prestigious law firm in Dallas, but was denied the job because of her gender.  “They basically said, ‘Well, we think you’ll be a real good lawyer and you’ve got very good recommendations, but we’re just a little hesitant about this,'” Weddington said in a recent interview.  This experience with blatant sexism inspired her to join a women’s advocacy group in Austin and work for the rights of women.  Not long after, she and her colleague Linda Coffee met with 21-year-old Norma McCorvey and agreed to represent her in a law suit challenging anti-abortion statutes in Texas.  At the young age of 26, Weddington argued the now famous Roe v. Wade case before the Supreme Court.  To this day, she is still the youngest person to successfully argue a case before the Supreme Court.

By the time the landmark case was decided in 1973, Weddington had already been elected to the Texas state legislature, the first woman to represent Travis County.  She’d decided to run so that if the Supreme Court decided against her, she could change the state’s anti-abortion laws from within the legislature, but the Court ended up ruling in her favor in a 7-2 decision.  She served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives and from 1978-1981, served as an assistant to President Jimmy Carter.  She also worked as a lecturer at Texas Women’s University during the 1980s and was an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin until 2012.  Now 72, Weddington continues to work for the rights of women and promote women’s leadership as the founder of the Weddington Center.

In recent months, Weddington has found herself in the spotlight again.  The lawyer who so passionately argued the cause of reproductive justice before the Supreme Court is now watching her life’s work be torn apart by a misogynistic administration.  As the government ramps up its attacks on Planned Parenthood, Weddington is ramping up her activism in a fight she thought she won 40 years ago.  In 2015, she said in an interview that she didn’t think Roe v. Wade would ever be overturned, but in 2017, she says that Trump is the biggest threat abortion rights have ever seen, and that “I think everyone who cares about the Roe v. Wade issue and other reproductive rights is very concerned about what will happen.”  I know I’m definitely worried, but I feel a little better knowing Sarah Weddington isn’t going to give up her fight.

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