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Molly Ivins on Roe v. Wade

Molly Ivins on Roe v. Wade
by digby

In light of the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, a man who is absolutely guaranteed to vote to end abortion rights for women and take us back to an antediluvian state of biological imprisonment The Texas Observer ran a Molly Ivins piece written in the aftermath of the 1973 landmark ruling establishing a woman’s right to abortion. It's 73, so it's interesting (edepressing?) to see how little the fight has changed. I urge you to read the whole thing. She was such a wonderful writer.

The following is just one part in which she profiles the lawyer, Sarah Weddington, who represented Jane Roe.

Weddington, who had thought she would either win or lose the case by a one-vote margin, is now convinced that the best course for the states is to do nothing at all. She will presumably have some influence in this area since she is a member of the Texas House of Representatives. At last check, no legislator had introduced any abortion legislation, although there were rumors that there might be some. But in fact, most politicians dislike nothing more than having to vote on such things — there is no way they can come out without losing support. Many of them not only dread the prospect, they have a positive phobia about it.

Weddington herself is something rather special. Although she feels she was not able to relate well to the Solid Rock League, if one can feature any abortion reformer ever getting along with that group, it would be Weddington. She is, to use an old-fashioned term frowned on by Women’s Lib, a lady, a perfect lady. She is grave, graceful and composed. “It’s not that Sarah doesn’t have a sense of humor,” said Ann Richards, an Austin housewife who was part of Weddington’s campaign braintrust. “It’s just that you gotta prep her a little. You say, ‘Now, Sarah, I’m about to tell you a funny story,’ and then she’ll just laugh and enjoy it as much as anyone. But you gotta warn her first, because it just doesn’t occur to her that someone might throw in a joke in the middle of serious business.”

WEDDINGTON was recently mousetrapped in this regard by that nefarious jokester Cactus Pryor, who was preparing his annual spoof for the Headliners Club. Weddington, along with several dames of importance, was invited to pass preview judgment on a proposed new addition to a well-known Austin restaurant. The women were told that the restaurateur planned to open a Women’s Only section featuring topless waiters, two of whom then appeared and showed their impressive torsos to the group. Most of the other political wives in the group got off with a noncommittal, “Oh, my, my” reaction. But ol’ Sarah gravely launched into a lecture to the restaurateur, assuring him that while she meant no insult to these very nice-looking young men, nevertheless, she had never approved of Men Only sections and . . . The episode was being filmed for use at the Headliners.

Weddington has a unique family background for a small-town Texas girl. Her daddy has a Ph.D. and her mother a master’s. Her father, for many years a Methodist preacher in a series of small Texas towns, is now head of the Methodist youth program for this state. Weddington skipped a couple of grades of public school and so graduated from McMurray College in Abilene, magna cum laude, at the age of 19. She was certified to teach high school English and speech, but her practice teaching sessions convinced her that she wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. She looked around, and because higher education was an accepted thing in her family, had no hesitation about entering law school, which she finished at about the age most students complete their undergraduate work. She became interested in the Women’s Movement during her senior year in law school. She practiced briefly in Fort Worth and came back to Austin to open a practice with her husband Ron. Ron Weddington, who is also from Abilene, had spent several years in the service and so graduated from law school a few years after Sarah.

According to law school friends, Ron was the outgoing, social Weddington, while Sarah’s natural reserve and relative unsophistication made her a quieter, less party-going type. “I had never even been to a party where liquor was served until after I graduated from college,” said the minister’s daughter. On one famous occasion, she got annoyed with Ron and decided to “show him.” She forthwith got extremely drunk and subsequently quite sick. “I don’t think you even noticed,” she said to her husband with some asperity. “Not notice?!” protested Ron. “Hell, honey, I had to pour you into the car.” Weddington (Sarah) has not since been known to overindulge.

WEDDINGTON and her law school classmate Linda Coffee started doing spadework on Texas’ abortion law as a result of their interest in feminism. When Jane Roe came to Coffee, Weddington volunteered to serve as co-counsel. The James Madison Constitutional Law Institute of New York helped with some of the expenses. Weddington wound up doing the oral arguments before the Supreme Court mostly, she says, because Coffee had joined a Dallas law firm and didn’t have much time to devote to the case. Weddington had worked on it all summer. Ron Weddington observed, “Sarah feels uncomfortable if she doesn’t know absolutely everything about every single angle of any case she’s working on. Hell, I’ve tried to tell her, a lot of lawyers really don’t know what they’re doing when they go into court. But you can’t make Sarah relax about it.”

Weddington had attended some sessions of the Women’s Political Caucus and finally decided that the only way women were ever going to get any experience in politics above the stamp-licking level was to try it themselves. So she pinned up her long, red-blonde hair in an effort to look more respectable and went down and filed for the Legislature. “At the beginning, I never thought I would win,” she said.

“Hell,” said Ann Richards, “I never thought she would lose.”

Sarah had first a dedicated hard-corps, then a whole troop and finally almost an army of women out working for her. Many of the women had worked in politics for years, making coffee, addressing envelopes, and being carefully excluded from all decision-making. But they had picked up ideas and expertise they were anxious to try out. Richards, who had worked in the North Dallas Women’s Club, Linda Anderson, whose husband Jamie worked in Sissy Farenthold’s campaign, Caryl Yontz, who had been with Yarborough’s P.R. people, and a legion more of very bright women who had wanted to get involved in politics but who had been turned off by the low-level jobs available in men’s campaigns. Weddington’s campaign was a slightly chaotic attempt at participatory democracy: it took more time and more effort, but even the lowly stamp-lickers were in on the decisions. The only male in the braintrust was Ron, who eventually left Farenthold’s campaign to sit in on this interesting thing his wife, of all people, had going. He handled the media work.

THEY RAISED money by giving parties. They had beer and chili ’til it ran out of their ears. Ron couldn’t believe the girls were mad because they had raised “only” $300 or $400 at the first party. “For a local campaign, with no big press job!” he gasped. But they thought they could do better.

At the big Travis County Democratic Fair fundraiser in the spring of ’72, Weddington knew her opponent would be handing out expensive favors, flashy gizmos dreamed up by professional political P.R. types. Ann Richards gnawed her nails for a few days over that and finally thought, “Well, when they pick up all this junk from the other candidates, they’ll need something to carry it in.” So for 13 bucks they acquired a couple hundred shopping bags and stuck Weddington stickers on them so everyone else’s expensive favors went into Weddington’s tote bags.

Richards, who has never been short on brass, decided that the best thing to do with Sarah was to trot her around and introduce her to everyone who would logically oppose her. “We did this Laurel and Hardy routine,” said Richards. “I’d go in to jolly ’em up and break the ice and then Sarah would come on all soft and reserved and ladylike. She’d ask for advice and listen to it. She’s a great listener. Then people felt they had a stake in her. During the runoff, the Alarmed Citizens of Austin had her on their bad list. We called them the Alarmed Dingalings.”

Cactus Pryor observes that the Alarmed Citizens consisted mostly of Sam Wood, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, charging up and down Congress Avenue on a horse screaming, “The students are coming! The students are coming!”

Richards, nothing daunted, marched Weddington off to meet Sam Wood. Wood told her he had read, as he was sure everyone had, that blacks regarded abortion as a racist plot to lower or wipe out the black population. Didn’t she think her advocacy of abortion might hurt her in the black precincts? “Why, I’ve heard that too, Mr. Wood,” said Weddington sweetly. “But, you know, the funny thing is that I’ve only heard it from black men.”

And so they persevered, that group of women who turned out to know so much about politics. And they won. Weddington gives all the credit to her crew of women and the women give all the credit to Weddington and it’s a downright rose festival, it is. But Weddington, who is not what you could call a real politician, is at least too smart to turn loose of her ladies. She’s got them volunteering right and left, at her citizens’ information center, sitting in on committee meetings she can’t make, and here and there and everywhere. She’s got three big plummy, juicy committee assignments and, in typical Weddington fashion, instead of rejoicing over her power she’s worrying about whether she can handle it. The women who work for her have no doubts at all.