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Who was Sarah Weddington and how does she relate to Roe v Wade?

The Texas lawyer who won abortion rights for women in the US died on December 26, as the court she defeated is primed to overturn the ruling.

A general view of the US Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
Ken CedenoReuters

Texas lawyer Sarah Weddington, who fought and won the seismic Roe v Wade case, has died aged 76.

She was just 26 when she argued the case before the Supreme Court.

She was also known for having held office in the Texas House of Representatives for three terms, and was later an adviser on women's issues in US President Jimmy Carter's administration.

Her death comes during a time when the threat to the case she won could not be higher. Anti-abortion rulings passed in Texas and Mississippi have put the right to abortion under huge threat. The court is expected to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy when a ruling comes in June.

What happened in Roe v Wade?

The Supreme Court ruling in 1973, named Roe v Wade after the parties involved, determined that it was unconstitutional for a US government to excessively restrict abortion.

The state of Texas maintained that it had the right to safeguard health, draw up medical standards and to protect prenatal life, which it argued was covered by the 14th Amendment. Texas considered a fetus as prenatal life from the point of conception and the notion of what constitutes a ‘person’ would become central to the Supreme Court ruling.

Roe on the other hand claimed her right to “liberty” under the 14th Amendment, and argued the Texas law unconstitutionally impinged on her marital, familial, and sexual privacy. Weddington represented Roe, real name Norma McCorvey. At this stage, it was argued that abortion rights are absolute and that a pregnancy could be ended at any time and for any reason the woman chooses.

The court fell short of ruling that women have absolute abortion rights, as Roe had claimed, but dismissed Texas’ assertion that it may overrule the rights of the woman. A framework was drawn up to balance the state’s medical powers with women’s privacy rights, ensuring that a state cannot prohibit abortion within the first two trimesters of pregnancy.