Sarah Weddington, the defense attorney in the legendary Roe vs. Wade case spoke at Quinnipiac’s Law School on March 30.
The speech was given in the Grand Courtroom for the 17th annual “Silver Golub and Teitell.” Weddington was the first woman to speak at this commencement.
Weddington, a whitish blond-haired woman with glasses and earrings, spoke about two main aspects. She spoke both about her involvement in the Roe versus Wade case and the process that brought her there. Weddington had little law experience when she accepted the case.
Weddington said, “I feel that leadership is the ability to leave your thumbprints. To meet those who have left their thumbprints is something I find so interesting.” She addressed the law students saying, “I know that you law students are seeing that jobs aren’t plentiful, there are finals, some are taking the bar exam. You’re saying to yourselves, ‘Why am I doing this?’ However having legal skills is so important.”
Weddington said, “If someone asked me what I was going to do out of college, I would have said teach 8th graders. If asked during my final year of law school what I was going to do, I would have said I was going to get a local Texas job.” She said, “I was the first woman to have a paved interview. They flew me from Houston to Dallas. I didn’t get the job offer because I was a woman.” Weddington said that later on, it was she who had to sign off on the one who did not hire her getting a job promotion. She refused to sign because she said, “I’d heard his practices hadn’t really changed.”
Weddington said, “All those males got jobs. I didn’t but I made history.” She originally worked for a trial lawyer, John Sutton. Weddington said, “I learned more from trial lawyers then anybody else.”
Weddington ran for, and won the position of a place on the Texas legislature. “I didn’t need a law degree,” she said “but it helped.” Weddington had become the first female on the Texas legislature.
She went on to work in the White House. Her office was located directly above the Oval Office. Weddington said she originally turned down the job, until she got a call from the White House asking her to come have dinner with the President. Weddington laughed and said; “Now you know you just can’t turn that down.”
In her time in the White House, Weddington was able to have many memorable experiences.
Included in her memories was going to Camp David and having the opportunity of meeting the famous “Miracle” Hockey team of 1980 and having dinner with Margaret Thatcher.
Weddington then talked about how her court case came about.
It started with a precedent started in Connecticut when a court ruling about contraceptives, in which the decision went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision was that there was, “a right to privacy that existed.”
The Roe versus Wade case came when a woman named Norma McCorvey, who used the pseudonym Jane Roe, became pregnant.
She went to a male attorney originally who said he could not help her but knew three women who could.
Weddington said that nobody would have guessed, with all the women who attended her law classes that she had be the one to get the case. At the time, she did not even know how to file a petition.
A petition was filed with five affidavits for “all women who might become pregnant.” The case was originally presented before three judges; Weddington won.
The prosecutor, Henry Wade said he would continue to prosecute for abortions and the case went to the Supreme Court.
After a “sleepless night,” Weddington entered a packed courtroom lined with almost 100 reporters.
The key issues in the case were the fundamental of pregnancy is that there is a right to privacy and whether states have the right to prosecute. The prosecuting lawyers were highly professional and had a lot of experience, compared to Weddington who was four years out of law school.
Weddington found out she’d won the case on January 2, 1973 from a reporter calling to ask for her comments.
After the speech, Weddington said that she felt the fate of Roe versus Wade depends solely on who is President. She said the future depends on young people.
She said regarding the terrorism that affects women exercising their right to choose and the doctors who perform abortions that, “I am so opposed to that. It is a crime of murder, and the hardest part is that it’s effective.
Many doctors are afraid.” She is thankful though because more has been done recently to stop it, and it’s been several years since a shooting. “Many feel they’ll be caught and face heavy sentences,” she said.
Weddington is now an adjunct professor in Texas. “People said to me ‘Why don’t you teach a class,’ so I signed up for a year.”
“Now it’s been 16. I have such great students who make it fun,” Weddington said.