Sarah Weddington: Roe vs. Wade

Sarah Weddington: Roe vs. Wade

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Sarah Weddington: Roe vs. Wade

St. Olaf College's theme for Women's History Month is "Women in Politics." The featured guest speaker was Sarah Weddington, the attorney who, in 1973, argued the winning side of Roe vs. Wade before the United States Supreme Court. This decision significantly influenced women's reproductive rights by overturning the Texas interpretation of abortion law and making abortion legal in the United States.

The Roe vs. Wade decision held that a woman, with her doctor, could choose abortion in earlier months of pregnancy without restriction, and with restrictions in later months, based on the right to privacy. It invalidated all state laws limiting women's access to abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy based on the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a part of the Bill of Rights. The Court's decision in this case was that the Ninth Amendment, "the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," protected a person's right to privacy.

The alias "Jane Roe" was used for Norma McCorvey, on whose behalf the suit was originally filed, alleging that the abortion law in Texas violated her constitutional rights and the rights of other women. The defendant was the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, Henry B. Wade. Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee were the plaintiff's lawyers. John Tolle, Jay Floyd and Robert Flowers were the defendant's lawyers. Those on the Supreme Court in support of the Roe vs. Wade decision were: Harry Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Chief Justice Warren Burger, William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis Powell and Potter Stewart. Those in the dissent were William Rehnquist and Byron White.

Although abortion has been legal for more than 30 years, the Roe vs. Wade decision is currently in jeopardy of being overturned by the Bush administration. Weddington divulged her personal fears about the decision being overturned by the court on any grounds. She stated that the damage will be long lasting and many women will suffer. Currently, there is a big effort by those opposed to abortion to give the fetus rights. Recent Bush administration regulations want to declare that a fetus is a child under the government's State Children's Health Insurance Program. This change would refute one of Weddington's arguments in Roe vs. Wade that the government has never treated the fetus as a person.

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In order to maintain the Roe vs. Wade decision, a majority of five votes in support of abortion rights on the Supreme Court is necessary. The most recent decision on abortion in the Supreme Court, Stenberg v. Carhart in 2000, revealed that the anti-abortion forces are close to overtaking the majority. Consequently, if a justice steps down, President Bush, who opposes abortion, will nominate a new justice and the majority will shift. The future scenarios will play out if a moderate or pro-Roe justice steps down and an anti-abortion justice is named, flipping the delicate 5-4 balance on the court toward those who oppose abortion. This is likely to happen at some point since several pro-Roe or moderate justices are considered likely to retire. Consequently, the Roe vs. Wade decision is hanging on by a thread. So much in the future depends on who on the Supreme Court resigns and who replaces them. Roe vs. Wade is secure so long as the composition of the court doesn't change. If a liberal retires and gets replaced by Bush, the decision could be overturned and abortion could be made illegal once again.

This is a frightening reality for women who value their reproductive freedom. I personally do not feel it is the government's position or right to tell women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. Where's the democracy in that? Women have made great strides to achieve rights and equality in our nation, but it is a deceptive mantra to think that women in today's society can do or be anything they want. Government is threatening to restrict women's freedom by limiting their options. By doing so, our nation is at risk of digressing to a time when women were told they could not do or be anything they wanted. As a woman and as an American citizen I refuse to raise my future children in a nation with that mentality. As Sarah Weddington said, "We have the right and responsibility to impact the outcome of issues we feel passionate about.and this is one of those issues."
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