Attorney Sarah Weddington, who argued to legalize abortion more than 30 years ago in Roe v. Wade, said yesterday she is still concerned about the future of women’s reproductive rights.
“I worry about it every day,” she said. “I thought we had won.”
Weddington was Norma McCorvey’s, or “Jane Roe’s,” attorney in the U.S. Supreme Court case that established a woman’s right to an abortion under the 14th Amendment’s protection of privacy.
Weddington said, however, that with today’s conservative government, reproductive rights are not secure.
“Never have pro-choice votes had fewer friends,” Weddington said. “We don’t have the president, we don’t have the administration (on our side).”
Drawing on her experience as a leader in the fight for women’s rights, Weddington listed ways that women can contribute to the cause. She encouraged the audience to be willing to change directions in life, to practice leadership and to constantly learn from others.
“I hope students will use this time to develop their own leadership potential,” Weddington said. “Reproductive rights are really under attack, and we need to help.”
Weddington traced her path from studying law and facing employment discrimination to arguing one of the most famous Supreme Court cases and writing a book on her experience defending abortion.
Underlying her speech was a constant concern for the future of reproductive rights.
“I’m hearing these refrains from the past that make me worry about Roe v. Wade,” she said.
To illustrate the battle still faced by proponents of abortion, Weddington shared in her speech the recent story of a Texas pharmacist who refused to fill a married woman’s prescription for birth control.
“It’s interesting how the things (Weddington) witnessed 30 years ago are still happening, School of Public Health student Malinowski said.
Weddington also served as former President Carter’s special assistant on women’s issues and as a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Weddington’s lecture, titled “Some Leaders are Born Women,” was filled with anecdotes from her experiences in the classroom, the courtroom and the White House. Her speech was the 2005 Elizabeth Charlotte Mullin Welch Lecture, presented each year since 1989 by the University’s Center for the Education of Women in memory of Mullin Welch —a 1939 University alum, successful business woman and advocate of women’s rights.
Sarah Ely, a CEW senior counselor, agreed with Weddington that the fight for reproductive rights is not over.
“We’re very honored to have (Weddington) here, especially with her message that the issues are not settled. We have a student body here that needs to carry on her work,” Ely said.
Weddington has also served as a muse for those defending similar causes today.
“I just think it’s so inspiring for us who are young and working on women’s rights to listen to those who worked before us. We can learn a lot,” School of Social Work student Lily Davidson said.
However, Krysta Bartnick, Business School senior and president of Students for Life, said much has changed since Roe v. Wade and that the government should respond accordingly.
“We now have a lot more evidence on the aftereffects of abortion,” Bartnick said. “So much has changed over the past 30 years. The law needs to catch up with science.”
Bartnick also noted that McCorvey has gone on record saying that she no longer supports legal abortion.
“That says a lot for the cause,” Bartnick said.