Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued Roe against Wade, dies at 76

Sarah Weddington, the young Texas lawyer whose successful arguments before the Supreme Court in the landmark Roe v. Wade led to the leg...


Sarah Weddington, the young Texas lawyer whose successful arguments before the Supreme Court in the landmark Roe v. Wade led to the legalization of abortion across the United States, died Sunday at her Austin home. She was 76 years old.

Rebecca Seawright, Ms Weddington’s former assistant and member of the New York State Assembly, said she was in poor health but the cause of her death had not yet been determined.

Ms Weddington was 26 and had never taken any legal action when she and Linda Coffee, her co-lawyer, went to the Supreme Court in 1971. Their legal battle culminated on January 22, 1973, when the court ruled in one of the most significant decisions in American history that a Texas state law prohibiting abortions, except to save a woman’s life, was unconstitutional.

Polls show Americans know Roe better than with almost any Supreme Court decision. This shouldn’t be surprising; he has been at the center of political debate for decades and now faces his most serious challenge, with the court apparently ready to enforce a Mississippi law that could essentially set Roe back.

Ms Weddington and Ms Coffee were recent graduates of the University of Texas at Austin Law School. By the late 1960s, Ms Weddington was friends with several Austin women who actively referred college students and others to doctors in the United States who would perform abortions illegally, and to other countries where abortions were. legal.

At one point, the women asked Ms Weddington if they could be prosecuted as accomplices. She said she didn’t know – until then the only legal cases she had dealt with were uncontested divorces, wills for people with no money and an adoption for her uncle. But she was prepared to research the matter for free.

She phoned Ms. Coffee, who practiced law in Dallas and had more experience, having worked for Sarah T. Hughes, a well-known Federal District Judge. At the time, Ms Coffee was working with a homeless pregnant woman named Norma McCorvey, who was seeking an abortion. In December 1969, Ms Coffee sent Ms Weddington a letter asking if she was willing to join forces and represent Ms McCorvey in a challenge to Texas law banning abortions.

“Would you consider being co-counsel in the event that a complaint is actually lodged?” Ms. Coffee wrote. “I’ve always found it a lot more fun to work with someone on a lawsuit of this nature.”

In February 1970, the two met Ms McCorvey at a Dallas pizza place and persuaded her to sign as an anonymous complainant, Jane Roe. Ms. Coffee prepared the legal brief, which became a class action suit, against Henry Wade, the Dallas County District Attorney. Ms Coffee and Ms Weddington both argued the case in Federal District Court and won.

The Supreme Court first heard the appeals on December 13, 1971, and Ms. Weddington presented oral arguments.

“Weddington enjoyed the public scene as much as Coffee didn’t like it,” Joshua Prager, a journalist, wrote in Vanity Fair in 2017. “Besides, despite her genius, Coffee could seem sloppy. And the optics mattered. “She was younger than me,” Coffee said of Weddington. “She was blonde, with blue eyes.”

Jay Floyd, who represented Texas, opened his case with what commentators called “the worst joke in legal history.” “It’s an old joke,” Mr. Floyd said in court, “but when a man has a fight with two beautiful ladies like this, they’re going to have the last laugh.”

In this case, only seven of the nine judges heard the arguments that day – two more had retired and had not yet been replaced. The judges then decided that the case should be reconsidered in full court. All the judges were sitting when Mrs Weddington returned on October 11, 1972 and reinterpreted the case.

Their 7-2 decision ruled that Texas had violated Roe’s constitutional right to privacy, as set out in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The decision was widely praised at the time. But with the rise of the religious right a few years later, abortion has become a volcanic political issue, and it remains one of the most controversial in American society. Ms Weddington has received death threats and has often traveled safely.

Sarah Catherine Ragle was born February 5, 1945 in Abilene, Texas. His father, the Reverend Herbert Doyle Ragle, was a Methodist minister. His mother, Lena Catherine (Morrison) Ragle, taught business classes at the college level.

Sarah was 16 when she enrolled at McMurry College, now McMurry University, a small Methodist school in Abilene. She majored in English and graduated magna cum laude at age 19 in 1964. She received her law degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1967.

During her final year in law school, she suffered an abortion, which she revealed in her 1992 book, “A Question of Choice”. She and her boyfriend, Ron Weddington, who would become her husband in 1968, drove to Mexico, where she said she had a safe abortion. But she was well aware of the sad experiences of other women.

“Some had fought on the abdomen or had jumped down the stairs to try to induce an abortion” she wrote in Texas Monthly in 2003. “Others had eaten mixtures of chemicals and cleaning products.”

She and Mr. Weddington, who was also a lawyer, opened a law firm in Austin. They divorced in 1974. Her brother, John Ragle, is her only immediate survivor.

While waiting in 1972 for the Supreme Court to render its decision in the Roe v. Wade, Mrs. Weddington showed up and won a seat at the Texas House. With Anne Richards, the future governor of Texas, as one of her legislative assistants, she passed several bills relating to women’s rights, including one that increased the statute of limitations for reporting rape from two to three years , and also prohibited questioning a rape victim about her previous sex life.

A 1975 Texas Monthly article said Ms Weddington may be “the hardest working member of the House” and named her one of the state’s top 10 lawmakers. He said she had earned the respect of old-school male lawmakers, but also that her feminist tenets had sometimes led her into desperate battles.

She had served just over two terms when she went to Washington as General Counsel for the Department of Agriculture in 1977.

From 1978 to 1981, she served as Women’s Affairs Assistant to President Jimmy Carter. Mr Carter objected to federal funding for abortions, which Ms Weddington supported, but she has publicly said she will not question their differences.

Some feminists thought she had compromised herself, The New York Times reported in 1978. But she caught up when, just over a month after taking office, she staged Senate approval to extend the deadline for states to ratify the equal rights amendment.

After Mr. Carter’s defeat in the 1980 election, Ms. Weddington remained in Washington and served as the first female director of the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations. Returning to Texas in 1985, she became a motivational speaker and addressed audiences across the country. She taught at Texas Woman’s University, where she later became an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Government, and taught courses on gender discrimination and leadership at the University of Texas.

She continued to travel, including to Albany, NY, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a measure in 2019 to strengthen state protections for abortion rights in the face of growing threats against Roe v. Wade.

With the continued assaults on Roe, the fate of the law was at the forefront of her mind, and she saw her own legacy as inextricable.

“I’m sure when my obituary is written the first paragraph will be about Roe v. Wade”, she wrote in Texas Monthly in 2003.

“I thought, for a while, that a woman’s right to make a decision about what to do during a particular pregnancy would be accepted,” she added, “than By then, Roe v. Wade’s 30th birthday, the abortion controversy would have gradually faded away like the closing scenes of a movie and we could move on to other topics.

“I was wrong.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued Roe against Wade, dies at 76
Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued Roe against Wade, dies at 76
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