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A Tribute to Roe v. Wade Lawyer Sarah Weddington

Left: FILE - Sarah Weddington, general counsel at the Department of Agriculture, smiles during an interview at her office in Washington on August 31, 1978. Weddington, who at 26 successfully argued the landmark case for the right to Abortion Roe v.  Wade in United States Supreme Court, died Sunday, December 26, 2021. She was 76.  (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File) Right: Attorney Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe v. Wade, at a women's rights rally Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Albany, NY (AP Photo/Mike groll)

Photo: Barry Thumma/Mike Groll (PA)

Linda Coffee still has the $15 check she used to file the first lawsuit that would become Roe vs. Wade to the Supreme Court. Later, she will ask another young Texas lawyer to join the case, Sarah Weddington. “I don’t know if I really needed it, but I knew Sarah was planning an affair,” Coffee told Jezebel by phone from her home in Mineola, Texas. The University of Texas Law School had only a handful of women enrolled and graduating at the time, so she knew Weddington’s work ethic.

Together they won their case, but for the 49th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade Saturday is the first year that only one of them is alive. Weddington, who was the barrister who successfully argued in the Supreme Court, died on Boxing Day. While it was a pleasure talking to Coffee about her former law partner, both women are largely forgotten in modern reproductive rights history.

That may be because neither were particularly flashy: Coffee continued to practice primarily bankruptcy law, while Weddington served in the Texas legislature for a time, then taught at his alma mater. But since Saturday is probably the last active birthday of deer, I decided to write a memoir in Weddington after he died at the age of 76.

I found Weddington’s memoir at a second-hand bookstore in Washington, D.C. I was in town to report on June Medical Services vs. Russo. Blurbs on reverse are news icon Linda Ellerbee; Anne Richards; Bill Clinton, still governor of Arkansas; Molly Ivins, my alcoholic writing hero; Larry King and Rosalyn Carter. It’s definitely from another era, but so is Weddington.

She was born in February 1945 in Abilene, a town in west central Texas of about 30,000 people. Her father was a Methodist minister and, although she was a very conventional teenager (church choir and marching band), she wanted none of the trappings of a “normal” life that were imposed on women at that time. She dreamed of going to law school, but didn’t know how to do it until a dean at her small Methodist liberal arts college told her it would be too hard for her, as it was too hard for her. his son. Weddington had already skipped two grades when she traveled to Austin in January 1965 to work for the Biennial Legislature. She enrolled in UT law school in June, where she was one of five women in her class.

His role in the trial began in a garage in Austin. A group of her friends were raising money for the ongoing abortion “benchmark project” among UT students. Weddington did not work there, but she began doing legal research for them. “Doctors could be prosecuted; and referral project volunteers did not know if they could get in legal trouble referring women for safe abortion,” she wrote.

So Weddington joined the fight. And she knew what she stood for: Weddington had an abortion in 1967 at a doctor’s office in Piedra Negras, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. Abortion was obviously illegal in Texas and Mexico, but Weddington suspected that bribes kept the operation illegal in business in Mexico. Regardless, his D&C succeeded. She returned to law school at UT Austin.

The fact that a person has to carry a pregnancy to term when she doesn’t want to? This is torture. It is a violation of human rights. Weddington understood that in his bones. The book is dedicated “to those willing to share the responsibility of protecting their choice”, and I hope you will take Weddington’s death as a call to action. There is a job for anyone interested in preserving abortion and reproductive freedom. Because of patriarchy, these rights will not be preserved without a fight. This is the worst aspect of an unenumerated right – it is there, but only in the legal obscurity of the right to privacy.

It took me this long to write a tribute to a woman who made my life possible because I can’t believe she lived long enough to see abortion rights reach such a critical point. . arguing deer was his career highlight (no offense to his time in the Texas Legislature). She was only 26! She didn’t have enough flowers in her lifetime. America likes to value the work of a person and forget about the backstage, the foot soldiers. But we never really valued his work, especially outside of Texas. Instead, Weddington grew old in a world where abortion was “safe, legal and rare”. A world where politicians from his own party worked to push back against abortion because they were afraid to stand up for women. The only good thing about her death is that she died before her legal triumph could be undone by people like Amy Coney Barrett who think adoption is an alternative to abortion.

I wish I had the opportunity to tell him how much his work meant to my life. At least I have to tell the woman who brought her on the case.

“I was very proud that we won,” Coffee told Jezebel of their work. “It’s sad that I think Roe v. Wade could be overturned. I counted there were five members of the Supreme Court who seemed to be leaning towards changing the law. I think that’s really what there is now, it is almost chaos.

So rest in power, Mrs. Weddington. We will continue to fight for the right to abortion.