Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sarah Weddington - A Heroine

On the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, I wanted to give honor to the 26 year old attorney who argued the case and won - Sarah Weddington.

She was born in Abilene TX after the end of World War II. Her father was a chaplain and religion professor. Her mother was a teacher and basketball coach. Due to the example set by her parents, she grew to love reading and studying, which allowed her to graduate from high school at 16, college at 19, and law school at 21. There were very few female lawyers in those days, but one of them in her class at the University of Texas was current US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Sarah learned communication through plays, speech events, and choral groups. She learned leadership through involvement in various organizations. She was elected secretary of the student body at college and secretary of her class in law school. (By the way, being secretary was one of the few leadership roles available to women in those days.)

Sarah stayed in Austin after law school and practiced law. In 1970 in US District Court, she represented a woman known by the alias of Jane Roe, who wanted the right to have a legal abortion. The Court ruled in her favor. But the decision was appealed and ended up in the US Supreme Court.

In early 1972 at the age of 26, Sarah Weddington argued Roe v Wade before the Supreme Court, with yours truly in the audience. She was incredible! However, by the time the Supreme Court got around to deciding the case, the Court had two new members, so the Chief Judge decided it should be argued again during the Court's next term.

So on October 11, 1972 at the age of 27, she argued the case again before the Supreme Court, but I was not able to be there. As we all know, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court announced that Sarah had won one of the most famous court cases in history. The Court sent her a collect telegram announcing the decision!

The press totally ignored her - probably thinking she was too young to possibly win the case. So the only picture she has was taken by the staff of her Congressman.The photo shows her with her husband, her Congressman, and her proud mother.

While all this was going on, Sarah was also running for the State Legislature - Primary in May 1972, Runoff in July 1972, and General in November 1972. Talk about multitasking!  Her campaign was run by a bunch of women volunteers who knew nothing about campaigning. One of her volunteers was future Texas Governor Ann Richards.The story of that campaign is hilarious, but it worked. She was elected and took Richards with her as her Administrative Assistant. She was reelected twice before resigning to go to work for President Jimmy Carter. While there, she was instrumental in getting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appointed to a federal judgeship.

After leaving Washington, she founded the Weddington Center, which focuses on developing leadership skills and civic involvement, especially with women. Surviving cancer led her to add resiliance and renewal training to the Center. She is a speaker and writer and teaches at the University of Texas.

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