Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who obtained the legalization of abortion in the United States, has died


Sarah Weddington, who had argued in Roe v. Wade and obtained legalization of the right to abortion, died at the age of 76.

She was only 26 when, a young Texas lawyer, Sarah Weddington appeared before the Supreme Court. The case, named Roe v. Wade, is still of paramount importance today: with her victory, the young woman, daughter of a pastor, had obtained the legalization of the right to abortion in the United States in 1973. She died this Sunday, at the ‘age 76, after having suffered from health problems recently, according to the explanations of his colleague Susan Hays to the Associated Press.

The lawyer, who had brought with her colleague Linda Coffee a class action on behalf of the women to whom the Texan authorities had refused an abortion, had pleaded in the name of « Jane Roe », the pseudonym attributed to Norma McCorvey, against the prosecutor of Dallas County, Henry Wade. Then 23 years old, prone to drug addiction, Norma McCorvey could not have an abortion, abortion being then still prohibited in the conservative state, forcing women wishing to have recourse to it to go to other states. or to an illegal intervention, risky for their health and their freedom. Sarah Weddington was elected in 1972, then re-elected twice, to the Texas House of Representatives, before becoming legal counsel at the Department of Agriculture and then adviser to President Jimmy Carter on women’s rights from 1978 to 1981, before to become a professor of law at the University of Texas, specifies « USA Today ».

Sarah Weddington at a women’s rights protest in Albany, June 2013. © Mike Groll / AP / SIPA

Roe v. Wade, a complex link between client and lawyers

Between her initial complaint and victory in the Supreme Court, Norma McCorvey gave birth and gave her daughter up for adoption. Subsequently, she denounced the will of her two lawyers to have used her case to obtain a national breakthrough: “Sarah was sitting across from me and I did not know until two years later that she had had an abortion herself. When I told her I desperately needed it, she could have told me where I could have gone. But she didn’t because she needed me to be pregnant for her business. Sarah had seen the scars on my wrists, my eyes swollen with tears, the unhappy person in front of her and she was holding her pigeon. She knew I would not escape Linda and her. I was too scared. It was one of the most terrible times of my life, ”she reproached her two lawyers in an interview with the“ New York Times ”in 1994. The following year, she was baptized in a swimming pool by a pastor at the head of an anti-abortion group, saying he was « worried about [son] hi ”, and had become a staunch opponent of abortion, going so far as to advocate for a setback for Roe v. Wade in 2005 and arrested in 2009 while demonstrating against the appointment of progressive judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Norma McCorvey died in February 2017 of heart problems.

Norma McCorvey and her lawyer Gloria Allred in April 1989, in Washington.  The Supreme Court had just upheld the Roe v.  Wade.

Norma McCorvey and her lawyer Gloria Allred in April 1989, in Washington. The Supreme Court had just upheld the Roe v. Wade. © J. Scott Applewhite/AP/SIPA

Sarah Weddington had, in 2018, responded to the criticisms of her former client, explaining why she had chosen her case to go to the Supreme Court: « We pleaded that she was pregnant when she did not want it and that ‘ she was unable to raise a child. And she seemed very willful – at least we had the impression – to be the complainant in this case, especially when we explained to her that it would not cost her any money and that she could remain anonymous. . And we never made his name public. She did it on her own years later, « she told » Time. « She was a changeable person. The problem I had was knowing when she was telling the truth and when she was not telling it, ”she added, citing the rape accusations once denounced by Norma McCorvey to explain her pregnancy.

A decision in danger

Sarah Weddington’s passing comes as Roe v. Wade is in more danger than ever. This case law is in the sights of several prosecutors, who intend to plead before the Supreme Court so that the judges, a majority appointed by conservative presidents – including three by Donald Trump. Thus, the Mississippi which, since 2018, passed laws directly attacking the right to abortion, prohibiting it from 15 weeks and then from six. These texts have not entered into force, challenged in court by associations for the defense of women’s rights, leading to this referral to the Supreme Court by the republican state prosecutor, which could open the door to others. Conservative states, reinforcing the inequalities already present across the country, between Democratic and Republican states.

In his complaint filed this summer, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch denounced « unscrupulous decisions that have harmed the democratic process, poisoned our national exchanges, invaded the law and, thus, harmed this Court « : » It is time for the Court to correct this and return this political debate to the political branches of government « . « Nothing in the constitutional texts, in their development, in history or in tradition supports the right to abortion », hammered this summer the elected official of a State which only has one clinic practicing voluntary terminations of pregnancy due to successive restrictions.

To analyse :« Alabama’s anti-abortion law is very extreme »

The magistrate even attacked the argument on the emancipation of women: « Today, adoption is accessible and a large part of women succeed in obtaining a successful professional life and a full family life, contraceptives are more available and effective and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken shape and human traits months before viability, ”he wrote in his request, assuring that“ countless names of women and mothers have reached the highest echelons of economic and social life regardless of the right ”to abortion. a possible return to Roe v. Wade would only be a first step, as Mary Ziegler, professor of law at Florida University of Law, explained to us: “If the precedent disappeared, that would not be the ultimate goal. Anti-abortion activists would not be satisfied, since if we follow their programs, they are already thinking of after Roe and asking for the recognition of a right to life, so that the Constitution considers a fetus or a child. unborn child as a person, who has rights that would make abortion unconstitutional. There would no longer be any right to abortion, the Constitution would ban it. ”

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