Gransnet forums

News & politics

RIP Sarah Weddington 1945-2021-The fight for abortion

(7 Posts)
trisher Mon 17-Jan-22 11:45:16

A woman died on 26th December who changed the lives of women in the USA. She fought for the right for women to have abortions. It's a fight we need to remember. Our rights are fragile. won in a single lifetime they need to be remembered.

Sarah Weddington passed last night in Austin, down the road from Abilene, where in 1945 she was born. She was one of the people who persuaded the Americans that women are human beings. Which was no easy task. Especially there in Texas. Of which it is said: “Texas is a fine place for men and dogs, but hell on women and horses.”
Daughter of a Methodist minister, she determined to go to college. Though such was not done, in those days. This was around the time teen Rickie Lee Jones was arrested for “being in danger of leading a lewd and lascivious life”: she had neglected to slip on a bra, under her t-shirt. “I thought I would be teaching eighth graders to love Beowulf,” Weddington recalled. Schoolteacher: you could do that then, if you were a woman—at least until you got yourself a husband, settled down, and started churning out more Texans.
But then schoolteaching seemed like it might be stupid and boring. So Weddington inquired about law school. “And the dean of the little college I went to said, ‘You can’t do that. No woman from this college has ever gone to law school. It would be too tough.’” And “’As sure as dammit I am going,’ I thought.”
But they did not want any women, there in the law school. “Some of the professors wouldn’t let women into a class because that would be wasting time and effort on someone who would never really use the education. Another wouldn’t let women ask questions. They could only ask questions one day a semester.” Then, when she graduated law school, no one would hire her. Because she did not have a penis.
Weddington, and some of the other people at the University of Texas, were wondering why women, there in the Americans, could not be human beings. And one of the ways women could not be human beings, is they could not control their own bodies. Those bodies, were controlled by men. “There was a building across the street from the University of Texas and a lot of student organizations had cubby holes there, with desks rescued from the garbage. In one little nook, women and some men were trying to work on women’s issues. One thing that was upsetting was that the university health center did not give out information about, or prescriptions for, anything relating to contraception. A couple of these women had gone to New York and got a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves—I still have this mental image of them in a closet with a flashlight reading this book—and they began to give the relevant information out to women. As they did, women would sometimes say: ‘I’m already pregnant. Where can I get an abortion?’ So they started going to places where abortion was available, and they’d write up that information, too. Sometimes, for instance, they’d write: ‘This person does not seem very skilled: never send anyone here.’ A lot of women were going to Mexico. Abortion was illegal there, too, but it was close to Texas, and sometimes women ended up in the wrong hands because people there wanted to make money out of the situation. The volunteers started going through the research on where could women go for abortions, and at that point California was legal. There was a flight on American Airlines every Thursday. Usually about ten women would be on that plane going to California for abortions. But you had to have money for the plane, you had to have money for the procedure, and so there was a need for money to help women who didn’t have enough themselves. We used to raise money through garage sales.
“The upshot of all this was that the women students were getting worried the police might arrest them for being accomplices to abortion. We were sitting at the snack bar in the law school one day and one of them, Judy Smith, said: ‘We need to get a lawsuit filed and try to overturn the Texas law. Would you be willing to do it?’ I told her she would be better off with someone with more legal experience. I’d only done uncontested divorces, wills, one adoption for my uncle; I had no experience at all in federal court. ‘How much would you charge?’ she asked. When I admitted I would do it for free, she said: ‘OK, you are our lawyer.’”
And that’s how Sarah Weddington came to argue Roe v. Wade. First in federal district court, then before the United States Supreme Court. Where she argued it twice; the first time there were only seven justices on the bench, two having recently retired, and the Supremes decided on a do-over, once Lewis “Business Is My Lord” Powell and William “We Will March On A Road Of Bones” Rehnquist were confirmed and seated.
“I was very nervous. It was like going down a street with no streetlights. But there was no other way to go, and I didn’t have any preconceived notions that I would not win. But I certainly was not confident. The attorney on the other side started by saying something inappropriate about arguing a case against a beautiful woman. He thought the judges would snicker. But their faces didn’t change a bit. It was impossible to read the justices’ faces.”
Weddington was 26 when she argued Roe before the justices of the high court. She was then the youngest person ever to argue successfully before them. She still is. Though it took a while for her to learn she had won. No one who has not been there knows what it’s like, waiting for some judge, or judges, to rule on your case. Weddington waited years. From December 1971, to January 1973. She had in the meantime sought and secured a seat in the Texas state legislature. “I was at the Texas legislature when the phone rang. It was a reporter from the New York Times. ‘Does Miss Weddington have a comment today about Roe v Wade?’ my assistant was asked. ‘Why?’ she said. ‘Should she?’ Then we got a telegram from the Supreme Court saying that I had won seven to two and that they were going to airmail a copy of the ruling. Nowadays, of course, you’d just go online.”
Weddington served three terms in the Texas state legislature. Then she moved to Washington DC, where she was the first female general counsel of the US Department of Agriculture. She was then appointed special assistant to President Jimmy Carter, for whom she chaired the Interdepartmental Task Force on Women. When the Americans went into retroversion, replacing Carter with Ronald “Where’s The Brain Of Me?” Reagan, she returned to Texas, directing the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations. For more than 35 years she was an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin. In Austin, she established the Weddington Center, designed to get more women into higher leadership positions. With Molly Ivins and Ann Richards, Weddington was of the holy trinity of the “Great Austin Matriarchy.”
“When I started the [Roe] case, the research in 1969, if anybody had said, ‘You will still be talking about this in 45 years,’ I would not have believed that. And so what I’m most amazed at is how long the issue has still been at the center of a lot of political conversations. I thought it would be some years before people sort of came to a common agreement that it was not the government’s business to decide women’s reproductive freedom. I’ve been surprised at how long it has really taken. And I don’t know how long it will take, but at some point, I’m not going to be willing to keep talking to anyone who asks me to do an interview. There’s a point at which you just get tired of that. It takes up a lot of my time, which, of course, is always pro bono. I did the case for free. At some point I am just tired of doing it, but I think the issue is so important. Soon, a younger generation, younger women and men in law school, are going to have to take on that responsibility.”
That time, is now. Because Weddington has passed. So she doesn’t have to talk about it any more. We do.
Asked a couple years ago if she can recall the woman she was when she was before the high court on Roe, she said: “Well, my hair is white now, so in one way, I don’t see myself as her at all, even if, whatever else I do in my life, the headline on my obituary is always going to be: ‘Roe v Wade attorney dies.’ But in terms of my emotions: yes. I think most women of my generation can recall our feelings about the fight. It’s like young love. You may not feel exactly the same, but you remember it.”
She also said: “We still have a long way to go, but I think the path is in the right direction.” Yes. That business about the arc, long, but bending towards justice? Never doubt it. She didn’t.

MayBeMaw Mon 17-Jan-22 12:01:03

I believe some states in the US still regard abortion as illegal.
We can consider ourselves very fortunate in the U.K. (not including NI) to have had enlightened politicians address this issue as long ago as David Steel

MiniMoon Mon 17-Jan-22 14:06:33

The great state of Texas has recently taken a backward step, reducing the window for having an abortion to 6 weeks.

People with regular menstrual cycles do not even miss a period until they are four weeks pregnant, meaning that — at most — they have two weeks to get an abortion."
However, Kerns pointed out that "many women have irregular periods, many women skip periods. So if we are talking about a window of essentially one week, and you're one of these many unlucky people whose periods are not 28 days apart you could easily miss that window of time to detect a pregnancy."
New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also pushed back on Abbott's comments, noting that people can miss periods for reasons other than pregnancy, including stress, which could make it even more difficult to detect a pregnancy and schedule an abortion within the six-week window.
"Six weeks pregnant means two weeks late for your period," Ocasio-Cortez told CNN's Anderson Cooper on "AC360" Tuesday evening. "And two weeks late on your period for any person -- any person with a menstrual cycle -- can happen if you're stressed, if your diet changes or for really no reason at all. So you don't have six weeks."

The fight for women to have rights over year own bodies continues.

Hithere Mon 17-Jan-22 14:29:34

Sarah Weddington , thank you so very much for making this a better world for women

Wheniwasyourage Mon 17-Jan-22 16:30:10

Yes indeed Hithere. It's very sad to see how so many states are trying to cancel the work she did.

Thank you trisher for posting that - it was long but interesting. I heard about Sarah Weddington on "Last Words" on Radio 4 on Friday too (should be available on BBC Sounds). What a strong and inspiring person she must have been.

maytime2 Mon 17-Jan-22 16:42:07

Thank you Trisher for bringing this to our attention. I knew of
Roe V Wade but not the attorney who was responsible for taking it to the Supreme Court. Sarah Weddington was born in the same year as me, but she had done far more with her life.
"A life well lived".

trisher Mon 17-Jan-22 18:46:39

I think we sometimes forget how things once were. I knew about Roe V Wade but the story of the girls flying to California was completely new to me. It reminded me of the girls from Ireland who came here. There are people who would take the right to abortion away from us. She was an incredible woman.