The Killer GirlBoss: Sarah Weddington, 1945-2021
If we don’t speak ill of the dead, who will? The vicious bon mot sprang to mind when I learned of the death over the weekend of Sarah Weddington, aged 76. She was the Texas lawyer who successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, helping inaugurate the most extreme abortion regime this side of North Korea. Weddington’s motivations were a study in the evil of banality, the whole package made all the more repulsive by her proto-#GirlBoss act.
The abortion industry and its allies are naturally in mourning. Planned Parenthood boss Alexis McGill Johnson tweeted, “What a loss.” She vowed to “honor Sarah Weddington’s work every day—by keeping up the fight to ensure that everyone has access to abortion.” The media obits didn’t fail to note that Roe is effectively suspended in Weddington’s home state, owing to an innovative law that grants citizens a private right of action to hold abortionists accountable.
Weddington had long worried that the high court’s holding in Roe wouldn’t last. In 2017, she told the Guardian, “If [Neil] Gorsuch’s nomination is approved, will abortion be illegal the next day? No. One new judge won’t necessarily make much difference. But two or three might.” It’s a great comfort: the thought that this grand dame of the abortion industry might well have spent her final days fretting over the status of her professional life’s signature achievement.
Sarah Weddington was an unlikely advocate for abortion-on-demand. The daughter of a Methodist preacher, she exuded primness. As Joshua Prager writes in Family Roe, his book-length story about the people behind the notorious case, “that she was smart was undeniable; she’d skipped two grades, graduated magna cum laude besides….[She] had headed her high-school chapter of the Future Homemakers of America, and had been assistant house mother for her Delta Gamma sorority. She was middle class and married.” She once said of herself, “I have received very few B’s my whole life.” (People who say such things about themselves should be barred from public life, a clear and easy test for psychopathy.)
A baby couldn’t be permitted to get in the way of her quest for A’s. In the middle-1960s, she and her future husband, Ron, were in law school when they “made a mistake,” as a New York Times review of her 1992 memoir, A Question of Choice, delicately put it. “Abortion was something I had never talked about with friends or family,” Weddington wrote. But she was now sure she had to obtain one, and obtain one she did, across the border, in Piedras Negras, Mexico.
She graduated from the law school at University of Texas at Austin but couldn’t land a private job. Instead, she immersed herself in Austin’s activist scene, working with a group of women who offered birth-control counseling, as well as information on abortionists in Mexico. The women wanted their lawyer friend, Weddington, to figure out if they could challenge the Lone Star state’s anti-abortion statute directly.
Weddington teamed up with fellow UT law alumna Linda Coffee, and soon the pair hit upon a potential plaintiff, a woman named Norma McCorvey. The pregnant McCorvey was especially taken with Weddington, “strawberry-blond and curvy and just two years older than she,” as Prager tells us. “‘She was wholesome and robust and had things happening!…I fell in love with Sarah. She had all this hair.’”
The rest is history. Weddington appeared twice before the Supremes, once in 1971, when she was only 26, and again the following year, aged 27. She told the justices,
We are not here to advocate for abortion. We do not ask this court to rule that abortion is good or desirable in any particular situation. We are here to advocate that the decision whether or not a particular woman will continue to carry or will terminate a pregnancy is a decision that should be made by that individual. That, in fact, she has a constitutional right to make that decision for herself.
The all-male panel of justices agreed: that law and morality could be neatly partitioned, just as Weddington and Coffee had advocated.
Weddington went on to serve three terms in the Texas legislature before the Carter administration tapped her for senior roles in the Department of Agriculture and later the White House, where she fought for the Equal Rights Amendment. A Times profile from her White House days noted,
She is a hard worker, usually arriving at the office at 7:00 a.m. and not returning home until late at night. She does most of her own housework in her two‐bedroom Washington home. She drives to and from work in a 1972 compact automobile. She finds time for friends, too, most of them Texans. She loves to square dance, eat Mexican food, go hiking and camping, and ride horses. She also likes to read, attend concerts and…discover how things work….‘I expect so much of myself,’ she said. ‘I guess I’m pretty close to being a perfectionist.’
All in a day’s work, for the woman who played a significant role in the industrial slaughter of more than 60 million unborn Americans since 1973.