Sarah Weddington

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sarah Weddington
Weddington in 1978
White House Director of Political Affairs
In office
August 10, 1979 – January 20, 1981
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byTimothy Kraft
Succeeded byLyn Nofziger
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 37-B district
In office
January 11, 1977 – September 1, 1977
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byMary Jane Bode
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 37-2 district
In office
January 9, 1973 – January 11, 1977
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Sarah Catherine Ragle

(1945-02-05)February 5, 1945
Abilene, Texas, U.S.
DiedDecember 26, 2021(2021-12-26) (aged 76)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Ron Weddington
(m. 1968; div. 1974)
EducationMcMurry University (BA)
University of Texas at Austin (JD)

Sarah Catherine Ragle Weddington (February 5, 1945 – December 26, 2021) was an American attorney, law professor, advocate for women's rights and reproductive health, and member of the Texas House of Representatives. She was best known for representing "Jane Roe" (real name Norma McCorvey) in the landmark Roe v. Wade case before the United States Supreme Court.[1][2][3] She also was the first female General Counsel for the US Department of Agriculture.

Early life and education[edit]

Sarah Ragle was born on February 5, 1945, in Abilene, Texas, to Lena Catherine and Herbert Doyle Ragle, a Methodist minister.[4][5] As a child, she was drum major of her junior high band, president of the Methodist youth fellowship at her church, played the organ, sang in the church choir, and rode horses.[6]

Weddington graduated from high school two years early and then graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from McMurry University in Abilene.[5] She was a member of Sigma Kappa sorority. In 1964, she entered the University of Texas Law School.[5] partly motivated after the dean at McMurry College, told her "No woman from this college has ever gone to law school. It would be too tough".[7] She was one of only five women in her law school class of 120.[8] In 1967, during her third year of law school, Weddington became pregnant by Ron Weddington and travelled to Mexico for an illegal abortion,[9][10] a fact she didn't reveal until 1992.[7] She received her J.D. that same year, graduating in the top quarter of her class.[11]


After graduating, Weddington found it difficult to find a job with a law firm.[9] She joined a group of graduate students at University of Texas-Austin who were researching ways to challenge various anti-abortion statutes.[12][failed verification]

Soon after, a pregnant woman named Norma McCorvey visited a local attorney seeking an abortion.[13] The attorney instead assisted McCorvey with handing over her child for adoption and after doing so, referred McCorvey to Weddington and Linda Coffee.[14]

In March 1970, Weddington and her co-counsel filed suit against Henry Wade, the Dallas district attorney and the person responsible for enforcing the anti-abortion statute.[15] McCorvey became the landmark plaintiff and was referred in the legal documents as "Jane Roe" to protect her identity.[16]

In May 1970, Weddington first stated her case in front of a three-judge district court in Dallas.[17] The district court agreed that the Texas abortion laws were unconstitutional, but the state appealed the decision, landing it before the United States Supreme Court.[17] In 1971 and again in the fall of 1972, Weddington appeared before the Supreme Court.[18] At the time of her first Supreme Court presentation, Weddington was 26 years old and had never tried a legal case.[3] Her argument was based on the 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 14th amendments, as well as the Court's previous decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized the sale of contraceptives based on the right of privacy.[19] In January 1973, the Court's decision was ultimately handed down, overturning Texas’ abortion law by a 7-2 majority and legalizing abortion throughout the United States.[20]

McCorvey, the lead plaintiff, claimed at the time that she had been raped, although she later recanted that claim and said she had wanted an abortion for economic reasons. During the course of the Roe v. Wade litigation, she gave birth and put the baby up for adoption. Rape was never an issue in the litigation or in the Supreme Court decision.[21] In a 1993 speech at the Institute for Educational Ethics in Oklahoma, Weddington discussed how she presented McCorvey during the lawsuit: “My conduct may not have been totally ethical. But I did it for what I thought were good reasons."[22] In a 2018 interview with Time, she said McCorvey was "a changeable person", adding "the problem I had was trying to tell when she was telling the truth and when she wasn't. ... I was very careful in drafting the materials that were filed with the court to be sure I only put in things I was sure were accurate."[23]

In 1989, Weddington was portrayed by Amy Madigan in the television film Roe vs. Wade.[24] In 1992, Weddington compiled her experiences with the case and interviews with the people involved into a book titled A Question of Choice.[25]

Weddington in Washington, D.C. in 2004

By the time Roe v. Wade was decided in January 1973, Weddington was elected to the Texas House of Representatives and re-elected to another two terms.[18]

Weddington attended the historic 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston as a Texas delegate speaking on the resolution of women's reproductive freedom.[26]

In 1977, US President Jimmy Carter's administration chose Weddington to serve in the United States Department of Agriculture,[27] and from 1978 to 1981 she served as his assistant.[28]

From 1981 to 1990 she was a lecturer at Texas Woman's University.[29] She was the founder of the Weddington Center.[28] She also served as a speaker and adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin until 2012.[30]

Personal life and death[edit]

From 1968 to 1974, she was married to Ron Weddington.[31][32] After her divorce, Sarah lived alone in Austin, Texas.[33]

Weddington died at her home in Austin on December 26, 2021, at age 76, after a period of declining health.[5][34][35] News outlets noted that her death occurred shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case reconsidering – and ultimately overturning – the Roe v. Wade decision.[36][37]


Weddington held honorary doctorates from McMurry University, Hamilton College, Austin College, Southwestern University, and Nova Southeastern University.[33]


As author[edit]

  • A Question of Choice, Smithmark Publishers, Incorporated, 1993, ISBN 978-0-8317-5334-4; Consortium Book Sales & Dist, 2013, ISBN 978-1-55861-812-1
  • The United States Delegation to the United Nations Mid-Decade Conference for Women: Copenhagen, July 14–30, 1980. Washington, DC : The White House, 1980.[38]
  • Weddington, Sarah Ragle, and 1975 Homemakers Committee United States. National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. The Legal Status of Homemakers In Texas. Washington, D.C., Homemakers Committee, National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year : for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1977.[39]
  • Weddington, Sarah (March 31, 2003). "Getting the Right to Choose". Time. Archived from the original on December 7, 2010.

As contributing author[edit]

  • Guide to Women's Resources. Washington, D.C: Office of Sarah Weddington, 1980.[40]
  • Honoring a Commitment to the People of America: The Record of President Jimmy Carter on Women's Issues. Washington, D.C: Office of Sarah Weddington, 1980.[41]
  • Roe, Jane, Henry Wade, Sarah R. Weddington, and Jay Floyd. Jane Roe, Et Al., Appellants V. Henry Wade, Appellee: proceedings of Arguments Before the U.s. Supreme Court Monday, December 13, 1971. Washington: U.S. Supreme Court, 1971.
  • Weddington, Sarah R, Jane Hickie, Deanna Fitzgerald, Elizabeth W. Fernea, and Marilyn P. Duncan. Texas Women in Politics. Austin, Tex: Foundation for Women's Resources, 1977.[42]


  1. ^ Gottheimer, Josh (August 4, 2004). Ripples Of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches. Basic Civitas Books. pp. 362–. ISBN 978-0-465-02753-8. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  2. ^ McBride, Dorothy E. (2008). Abortion in the United States: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-1-59884-098-8. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Seelye, Katharine Q. (December 27, 2021). "Sarah Weddington, Who Successfully Argued Roe v. Wade, Dies at 76". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  4. ^ Schwalboski, Ann M. (2002). "Weddington, Sarah R. (1945—)". In Commire, Anne (ed.). Women in World History. Vol. 16. Yorkin Publications. pp. 297–299. ISBN 978-0-7876-3736-1. OCLC 41108563.
  5. ^ a b c d "Sarah Weddington, Roe v. Wade attorney, dead at 76". KIRO 7 News Seattle. December 27, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  6. ^ Weddington, Sarah Ragle (2013). A question of choice (40th anniversary ed., rev. and updated ed.). New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York. ISBN 978-1-55861-813-8. OCLC 846991205.
  7. ^ a b Green, Andrew (March 19, 2022). "Sarah Weddington". The Lancet. 399 (10330): 1112. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00489-5. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 35305733. S2CID 247502055.
  8. ^ McCorvey, Norma (1994). I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 58. ISBN 0060170107.
  9. ^ a b "Sarah Weddington, attorney who won Roe v Wade abortion case, dies aged 76". the Guardian. December 26, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  10. ^ Garrow, David J. (September 27, 1992). "She Put the v in Roe v. Wade". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  11. ^ "Sarah Weddington, 'Jane Roe' lawyer in landmark abortion case, dead at 76". New York Post. December 26, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  12. ^ Encyclopedia of American civil liberties. Paul Finkelman. New York: Routledge. 2006. ISBN 978-0-203-94351-9. OCLC 141231528.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  13. ^ "Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion, dies outside Houston". Dallas News. February 18, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  14. ^ "Sarah Weddington, lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade, dies at 76". USA TODAY. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  15. ^ "Roe v. Wade Fast Facts". CNN. November 4, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  16. ^ Prager, Joshua (September 9, 2021). "The Roe Baby". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Sarah Weddington, lawyer in Roe v Wade case, dies at 76". TPR. December 26, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  18. ^ a b "Sarah Weddington, Lawyer Who Argued Roe v. Wade, Dies at 76". Time. Archived from the original on December 27, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  19. ^ "Roe v. Wade (1973)". 2007. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  20. ^ "Sarah Weddington, Texas lawyer who successfully argued Roe v Wade abortion rights case, dies aged 76". Sky News. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  21. ^ Noble, Kenneth B. (September 9, 1987). "Key Abortion Plaintiff Now Denies She Was Raped". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  22. ^ Nichols, Natalie (May 24, 1993). "Being True to Self First Law of Ethics, Attorney Tells Conference". Tulsa World. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  23. ^ "Roe v. Wade Lawyer: "We're Going to Have to Fight Harder"". Time. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  24. ^ "Amy Madigan: A Voice for Tough Choices". Los Angeles Times. August 19, 1989. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  25. ^ Estrin, Michele A.; Weddington, Sarah (November 1992). "A Question of Choice". Michigan Law Review. 91 (6): 1618. doi:10.2307/1289782. JSTOR 1289782.
  26. ^ "The National Women's Conference: Taking 1977 into the 21st Century". Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  27. ^ Thurston, Joshua. "Roe v Wade lawyer Sarah Weddington dies aged 76". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  28. ^ a b Méndez, María. "Sarah Weddington, attorney who secured abortion rights in Roe v. Wade, dies at 76 in Austin". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  29. ^ "2016 Jamison Lecture". Texas Woman's University. Retrieved November 3, 2017.
  30. ^ Reaves, Jessica (January 16, 2003). "Interview: Sarah Weddington". TIME. Archived from the original on February 7, 2003. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  31. ^ Hylton, Hilary (September 17, 1992). "Persistent Champion of Choice : Women: Nineteen years after Roe v. Wade, attorney Sarah Weddington is speaking out about her role in the case and her own abortion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  32. ^ Wood, Susan (February 11, 1979). "The Weddington Way". Washington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  33. ^ a b "Sarah Weddington, Texan who argued Roe vs. Wade before the Supreme Court, dies at 76". Dallas News. December 26, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  34. ^ "Sarah Weddington, lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade, dies at 76". ABC News. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  35. ^ McGee, Kate (December 26, 2021). "Sarah Weddington, lawyer in Roe v Wade case, dies at 76". The Texas Tribune. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  36. ^ O'Neil, Tyler (December 26, 2021). "Roe v. Wade lawyer dies, former student says; as Supreme Court reconsiders landmark abortion case". Fox News. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  37. ^ "Roe v Wade US abortion rights lawyer Sarah Weddington dies". BBC News. December 27, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  38. ^ Weddington, Sarah Ragle; United States; World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace (1980). The United States delegation to the United Nations mid-decade conference for women: Copenhagen, July 14-30, 1980. Washington, DC: The White House.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. ^ Committee, National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year Homemakers. "The Legal Status of Homemakers in Texas". Sarah Ragle Weddington. Retrieved December 27, 2021.
  40. ^ Weddington, Sarah (1980). Guide to women's resources. Washington, D.C.: Office of Sarah Weddington, The White House.
  41. ^ United States (1980). Honoring a commitment to the people of America: the record of President Jimmy Carter on women's issues. Washington, D.C.: the Office of Sarah Weddington.
  42. ^ "Texas women in politics : a project / of Sarah Weddington, Jane Hickie and Deanna Fitzgerald ; edited by Elizabeth W. Fernea, Marilyn P. Duncan". Retrieved December 27, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • A documentary of progress during the administration of Jimmy Carter, 1977 to 1981: Barbara Haugen, editor; from the Office of Sarah Weddington, Assistant to the President, The White House (1981)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by White House Director of Political Affairs
Succeeded by