Trailblazing lawyer Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe v. Wade, dies at 76


The historic Roe v. Wade case in 1973 was based on the decision that a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy came under the freedom of personal choice in family matters and was protected by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling came after a woman, filing under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” and later identified as Norma McCorvey, challenged Texas’ criminal abortion laws that forbade abortion as unconstitutional except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. McCorvey filed the case in 1969 after being pregnant with her third child, while she said she was raped her abortion case was rejected and she was forced to give birth. Her case later moved to the Supreme Court in 1973, in which Weddington and a former classmate of hers Linda Coffee represented McCorvey.

The case they won changed women’s rights by allowing women an absolute right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. It also established that, in the final trimester, a woman can obtain an abortion despite any legal ban only if doctors certify it is necessary to save her life or health.

“A lot of people together won Roe v. Wade,” Weddington told a group of UT students in 1998, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “We give it to you proudly so it can be passed down to other generations.”

After being one of the youngest to fight a case in the Supreme Court, Weddington continued to make history by becoming the first woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives from Austin and Travis County in the early 1970s. According to the American-Statesmen she also later became the first woman to be general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was a special assistant to President Jimmy Carter from 1978 to 1981.

“While rightfully known for her remarkable victory and continued advocacy for reproductive freedom, I knew Sarah as a friend and fellow legislator who worked effectively for Austin,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Texas, said in a statement Sunday night.

“Her passion for reproductive freedom was matched by her compassion for our neighbors. She shows the tremendous impact that one determined woman can make,” Doggett added.

Others including Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas paid tribute to Weddington as well, noting her accomplishments as a “reproductive rights champion” who “grew up at a time when women faced limits and roadblocks in nearly every aspect of their lives.”

“As a young Texas lawyer, she stood fearlessly before the U.S. Supreme Court generating the landmark abortion rights decision that changed the course of history and opened doors for the generations that followed,” a statement from Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas read. “Here in Austin, Sarah graciously shared her time and insights, mentored countless young people, and inspired staff and supporters at events on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. We are all deeply saddened by her loss.”

Rest in peace and power, Sarah Weddington; your work and dedication to women’s rights will not be forgotten.

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