In Her Own Words: Dr. Sarah Weddington Speaks About Her Work on Roe v. Wade in Her Keynote Address at the Women’s Rights Law Reporter 30th Anniversary Symposium (March 6, 2002)
Foreward by Jessica Kitson & Kamilla Sjödin, former co-Editors in Chief, Rutgers School of Law—Newark ‘02
Politico’s[i] publication of the leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision that will in a matter of weeks likely overturn Roe v. Wade still feels like a gut punch. We know exactly how enormous a setback this is for women’s rights and all other rights impacted by the right to privacy in the United States. This decision has little to do with abortion itself and everything to do with our ability to be whole human beings with meaningful input and participation in society. Dr. Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, understood full well both the enormity of that 1973 landmark case and the urgent need for the continued protection of those rights, which she discussed when we celebrated her work at the Women’s Rights Law Reporter’s 30th Anniversary Symposium in 2002.
As law students, we were lucky enough to serve as co-Editors-in-Chief of the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the distinguished legal publication, brought to Rutgers Law School by Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she was still a law professor, and to have the privilege to meet and hear from Dr. Weddington as she delivered the Symposium’s keynote address. Even twenty years ago, about thirty years after she won Roe v. Wade, Dr. Weddington foresaw the dismantling of women’s rights under the guise of criminalizing abortion. She was clear that we must listen to the testaments of women who grew up in the 50s and 60s before Roe v. Wade became law, insistent on the need to increase opportunities for women so that we can continue to be in positions to advance our rights, and adamant that the fight for equality was from over: “There was a time when I hoped some of the past victories regarding gender issues could be checked off as having been accomplished. For a very few that is true. For other issues, the work of today is a continuation of work in progress thirty years ago; issues relating to domestic violence and rape certainly fall in that category. For other issues, the conflict today is as sharp as it was thirty or more years ago. The abortion issue certainly would be included in that category.”
Now, two decades later, nearly fifty years after the landmark Roe decision, those words are proving more prescient than any of us could have imagined as the Supreme Court appears poised to completely overturn that crucial decision. Our work to protect reproductive freedom is about to become harder and ever more urgent. It is easy to despair. And yet, a key takeaway from Dr. Weddington’s remarks back in 2002 gives us all a reason to be optimistic. As she spoke to a room full of young soon-to-be attorneys, mostly women, she said: “When I think about the future, a number of things come to mind. . .[and] I have faith that you will play important and constructive roles in addressing those problems and inequities. . . . you are so much stronger than we were at comparable ages. You have the advantage of 30 years of improvement in legal education methods.”
We now have closer to 50 years of improvements in our education. We are stronger than ever. The women with whom we graduated are in the prime of our careers and we have plenty of fight left. The younger generations bring even more. As we reread Dr. Weddington’s address in light of the pending SCOTUS decision so as to be inspired by her words once again, we encourage you to do so as well. It is as inspirational today as it was twenty years ago. We are beyond grateful for all Dr. Weddington did for women over the course of her life and careerand are committed to redoubling our efforts to ensure that her work, the promise of Roe, and all of the incredible work that has come as a result of it, will be not just be protected, but expanded until we have true equality for all women.
The Women’s Rights Law Reporter is a semi-annual journal of legal scholarship and feminist criticism published by students at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark. The Women’s Rights Law Reporter was originally founded in 1970 by Ann Marie Boylan, who independently published the first volume in her New York City apartment. The Reporter moved…
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