Sarah Weddington, winning attorney in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in the United States, gave a lecture to about 200 people in Statler Auditorium on her personal experiences, women’s issues and leadership.
Weddington said that the goal of her talk was twofold. She wanted to “tell you things most students want to know” regarding the court case, and she also wanted to “try to talk about leadership,” stressing that “one of the key places to practice [leadership] is here on campus.”
“The most important thing I can do right now is to reach out to a new generation,” Weddington said.
Weddington talked about the Roe v. Wade case in the context of her history as a woman in the law profession. She recalled her attendance at the University of Texas Law School with only five other women, and her inability to find work with a law firm following her graduation because she was female.
She explained that she took a job working for a professor, and that it was during this time that she became involved in the issue of abortion in the legal system.
“I was introduced not long ago as ‘historic.’ I don’t feel that way,” Weddington said. “When I followed Roe, I didn’t think I was following a Supreme Court case.”
She explained that she had had very little previous experience in the courtroom. In fact, Weddington is the youngest known person to ever win in front of the Supreme Court.
Weddington described the courtroom and experience in detail, including how nervous she was the night before and how frustrated she was that the lawyer’s lounge had a men’s room but no women’s room.
She also spoke on the significance of the case, saying, “Roe was very much in a period when women were told ‘women don’t, women can’t, women shouldn’t.'”
Weddington then went on to talk about leadership, stressing her concern that “there are so few women that hold top leadership positions.”
She said that each individual should consider, “What can I do today that will give me more options in the future?” Weddington went on to say that developing the skills for leadership is key.
“It means during these years to be thinking about what [you would] like to be changed,” she said.
Weddington explained that one of the most prominent issues that must be addressed is the future makeup of the Supreme Court.
“There are three judges saying get rid of Roe v. Wade … there are three saying leave it alone; there are three saying don’t get rid of it, but weaken it,” she said.
She explained that with potential new appointments, she is concerned about the future of abortion in the legal system.
“Sometimes I feel like we don’t have any defenses left,” she said.
Weddington’s lecture received a standing ovation from almost everyone in the auditorium.
“She’s very informative about the current struggles within the Supreme Court and what to watch out for,” Adam Kaplan ’04 said.
A question and answer period followed the talk, and a number of students and one alumna addressed Weddington with their reactions and questions.
One audience member voiced concern over the need for more minority women to hold leadership positions.
Another asked Weddington to expand on the qualities of leadership, to which Weddington responded that communication skills, especially oral ones, are incredibly important. She pointed out that she had given her lecture with very little reliance on notes, and she explained that this was a useful tool.
There were also those who chose to challenge some of Weddington’s main points. One audience member questioned Weddington on the controversy over Roe’s stance on the trial, asking how the case could “be so pro-women if so based in deceit.”
“It was not based on deceit,” Weddington said. “What I resent is her using me as a punching bag … to hurt the case.”
Another audience member asked Weddington whether she believes that “a baby is actually a baby one hour before birth.” Weddington responded that she didn’t believe a baby was actually a baby until birth, but that her personal view was not the issue. She stressed that what is important in the question of abortion is that women get to answer that question for themselves and act accordingly.
Weddington concluded with a summary of the significance of the Roe v. Wade case.
“There are people who feel strongly on both sides of the [abortion] issue. The real question is who gets to make that decision, and it should not be the government, it should be the women.”
Archived article by Amy Green