Who Was the Attorney Behind Roe v. Wade?
When Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Burger, said “Ms. Weddington, you may proceed whenever you are ready,” Sarah Weddington stood to address the Court, and her nerves washed away. Just 26 years old, Weddington went on to successfully argue the landmark case, Roe v. Wade.
Now, 40 years later, Weddington looks back on her career and the road she took to get there. The daughter of a Methodist minister, Weddington says that “you’re always different” when you’re the preacher’s kid. She grew up absorbing her father’s teachings on “caring about the people around us" to the point of actually doing something to help. This view strongly influenced how Weddington would go on to take on the world.
Graduating from high school in only two years, Weddington proceeded to earn a bachelor’s degree from McMurry University in 1964. Although the dean there told her it would be too challenging for a woman to go to law school, she became one of five women of the 120 student class at University of Texas Law School.
It was in law school where Weddington first began working with a women’s group trying to legalize abortion. Applying the lessons her father preached while she was growing up, Weddington saw this as an opportunity to make change for women who needed help, specifically the woman who became known as “Jane Roe." In 1971, Weddington’s case, Roe v. Wade was selected to be heard before the Supreme Court. In 1973, the Court overturned Texas’ abortion law with a 7-2 majority.
Despite Weddington’s early career success, she has not slowed down. She was elected to three terms in the Texas House of Representatives where she passed legislation focused on health, women’s rights, anti-discrimination and early education. She became the first female General Counsel of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Weddington continues to lead by example through the Weddington Center. She says, “I learned that when people say ‘women can’t,’ ‘women don’t,’ ‘women shouldn’t,’ that often we should try.”