Feminist lawyer Sarah Weddington was the youngest person ever to argue a case before the Supreme Court at age 26.
Her efforts saw the pro-abortion Jane Roe argument win the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973.
Early Sunday morning, as the Supreme Court is reconsidering the details of U.S. abortion law, the lawyer passed away in her sleep after “a series of health issues,” a former student announced. She was 76.
With her former classmate Linda Coffee, Weddington had been looking for a client to challenge state laws restricting legal abortions to mothers whose lives were endangered by carrying their baby to full term.
Weddington, in her book about Roe v. Wade, said that in 1967 during her third year of law school, she had traveled to Mexico herself to access an abortion, which was illegal in the United States at the time.
She and Coffee took on the case for “Jane Roe” (aka Norma McCorvey) in 1971 on referral and eventually filed a class-action lawsuit against the state, represented by Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade.
In 1973, the court ruled 7–2 in favor of legalizing abortion in the United States during the first trimester, or first 12 weeks. This was extended in the 1992 companion case “Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey” to the time of fetal viability for life outside the womb, somewhere around the 24-week gestation mark.
Her death comes as the Supreme Court is considering an appeal of Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which could rewrite part of Roe v. Wade.
Specifically, the court is considering “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”