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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Lawyer backs choice

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, March 11, 2005

When Sarah Weddington was a student at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas in the 1960s, she was forced to play half-court basketball. At that time, women were believed to be “too fragile” to capably run the full length of the court. Indeed, to dribble the ball more than twice – because of the “physical demands” it required – was condemnable enough to warrant a “traveling” call.

What Weddington would later ask herself – as well as the McMurry administration, who laughingly dismissed her aspirations to attend law school – was the quintessential feminist question, “Why can’t [women] just keep running?”

For Weddington, the answer seemed simply to have been “You can.”

Weddington – now known nationwide for her legislative participation in the monumental 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade – successfully achieved her dreams of attending law school … and then some. In 1972, she became the first woman to be elected to the Texas House of Representatives, and later served not only as the General Counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but as Assistant to the President of the United States during the Carter administration. A lifelong advocate of women’s rights, Weddington continues to publicly address the issues of leadership, politics and abortion.

It was for the latter reason that Weddington came to speak at the Pause Wednesday night as part of St. Olaf’s on-campus Women’s History Month celebrations. She delivered a lengthy talk about her own, unexpected rise to political “stardom” while simultaneously describing the judiciary process that dictated the Roe v. Wade case.

Weddington also her relayed own shock at being asked to represent the (winning) side of the case – she was only 26 at the time – and recounted the pre-trial anxiety she experienced and attempted to abate through “moo courts” (faux courts), which she staged to perfect the delivery of her oral argument.

Though shocked at the success of the Roe v. Wade trial – her first contested case – Weddington admitted that the greater surprise of her life has been the continual attention to and discussion of the trial; 32 years after the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to legalize abortion nationwide, dialogue surrounding abortion continues to swirl, on both sides of the argument.

Weddington further conceded that she faces more adversity today than she did at the time of the ruling; in the 1970s, a woman of influence – especially in the political arena – was met, overwhelmingly, with respect for her rarity. In the twenty-first century, the increasing expansion of women’s rights has provided that a woman of Weddington’s status will not often induce the same amount of awe. In fact, Weddington believes that the staggering amount of career opportunities now available to women is potentially the greatest challenge that women today face.

“There are more opportunities available to women, but it’s harder to secure them,” she said. “Whereas I was told that I had no options, women today are taught that they can do anything they want … this is a deceptive mantra.”

Weddington cited her mother, June Carter and the myriad inspiring women of the literary and political arenas as her most notable female influences. She also divulged her personal fears that the Roe v. Wade verdict could be overturned under the Bush administration. “If [Supreme Court Justice] Sandra Day O’Connor [who has been ill] is replaced, for example, many issues concerning women’s rights could be affected,” she said.

Though Weddington’s years of public speaking seemed apparent in her discussion – she articulated herself well, though often repeated what must be the most regularly-argued facets of her speech – she handled herself with poise, and made her aspirations for the future perfectly clear.

“It ain’t over,” she said. “The best I can do is offer the younger generation information, and hope that they will experience the joy of making an impact on something they care about.”

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