To mark the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, the UM School of Law brought a key figure in the women’s rights movement to speak to students and other community members Tuesday night at the Storer Auditorium.
Sarah Weddington, the lead attorney in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, helped make history. By winning the case, women in the country were granted the right to choose whether or not to complete their pregnancies without government interference.
A 26-year-old at the time, she is believed to be one of the youngest lawyers to successfully argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.
“You don’t need to be a perfect leader,” Weddington, now 68, told the UM crowd. “I have exemplified that. To me, leadership is the willingness to leave your thumbprint.”
Referring to most justices by their first names, Weddington recalled her experiences with monumental female leaders, from Ann Richards, the second woman to be elected governor of Texas, to Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice.
But Weddington pointed out that these women are all gone from office now.
“That is why we need a new generation to take the reins,” she said.
Janet Stearns, dean of students for the School of Law, has known Weddington for more than 15 years. She thought students would be moved by Weddington’s story and advice.
“She is very inspirational,” Stearns said. “I think law students and the entire campus community will be motivated just from hearing her.”
Cady Kaiman, a third-year law student, is president and co-founder of UM’s chapter of the nonprofit network Law Students for Reproductive Justice, which hosted the event.
“Dr. Weddington is a national treasure,” Kaiman said. “She changed and moved reproductive freedom forward in our nation.”
However, the rulings from the case have not gone unchallenged. From party platforms to religious dogma, the legalization of abortions remains one of the most controversial contemporary issues 40 years later.
“Reproductive issues are always front and center in our nation’s politics, and quite frankly, consistently under siege,” Kaiman said.
Kaiman, pursuing dual degrees in law and public health, hopes to one day contribute to the reproductive rights movement.
Students wishing to get involved with Law Students for Reproductive Justice should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Weddington will be featured in the PBS special, “Makers: Women Who Make America,” airing Feb. 26.