“I’ll never forget January 22, 1973,” said Dr. Sarah Weddington, referring to the day she received a call from a New York Times reporter informing her that her first contested court case as a lawyer, argued the year before, had been decided in her favor. Fresh out of the University of Texas School of Law, she had filed a case hoping to add to “this building pyramid of cases challenging the antiabortion statutes.”
She did not expect that the path she had embarked on would take her to the Supreme Court at the age of 26, or that her case, Roe v. Wade, would ultimately be the one to decide the issue. More than thirty-five years later, it was the only Supreme Court decision that antiabortion vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was able to recall in her infamous interview with Katie Couric.
Weddington is now a professor at the University of Texas and travels the country speaking about leadership and women’s rights. In 1993, she wrote A Question of Choice, a book about her experience with the Roe v. Wade case. I spoke with her recently about what’s at stake this election day.
If John McCain is elected and is able to put together a Supreme Court of his choosing, how hard would it be for the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade?
If McCain were able to make those appointments, he’d still have to get them confirmed by the Senate. That’s one reason we are working so hard to elect more senators who support Roe v. Wade and the principle behind that decision. It could be that you would just have a situation where, even if McCain made appointments, they wouldn’t get through the Senate. Bill Clinton had a period while he was president where he couldn’t get his Court appointments through the Senate.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont really does respect Roe v. Wade, and I’m sure he would, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have a lot to say about who gets confirmed. And I must admit, as I read the papers, listen to the news, talk to people, look at the polls, I do not believe it is going to be McCain who will be making those appointments.
The second part is that there has to be a case that would get to the Supreme Court in which they could appropriately overturn or radically diminish the privacy principle. There are a number of states that currently are getting ready to vote on measures whose supporters say would provide an appropriate challenge to present to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Those are Colorado, South Dakota and California.
California is more of a minor issue: what kind of consent would a minor have to have in order to be able to have an abortion? But South Dakota is a clear case of a challenge. Colorado is, too, but South Dakota is one where they clearly said, “We want to overturn Roe. We are trying to give the Court a way to do that.”
You also had one bill pass several years ago in the Congress, which said a certain form of abortion [dilation and extraction, or “partial-birth,” abortions] could not be used. It was the first time you had Congress passing a bill trying to decrease the kinds of procedures that could be used. So you could have members of Congress immediately introducing legislation that could be much broader in being opposed to Roe v. Wade.