For 40th Anniversary of Roe, TIME Treats Attorney Sarah Weddington to Softball Interview, Just Like 10 Years Ago

January 22nd, 2013 1:15 PM

As many of you are doubtless already aware, the "Roe" in Roe v. Wade, Norma McCorvey, converted to Christianity in the mid-1990s and became a pro-life activist, repentant of her role in the lawsuit that 40 years ago today legalized abortion.

So you'd think that any interview with McCorvey's attorney before the Court, Sarah Weddington, would include at least one question about McCorvey's change of heart. But alas, that wasn't in the cards with TIME magazine's Valerie Lipinski in her January 22 interview with Weddington. Indeed, the entire affair was a succession of softball question after softball question, concluding with a query about whether Weddington ever goes back to listen to audio recordings of her arguments before the Supreme Court (emphasis mine):

  • Ten years ago, we asked if you thought the Roe v Wade ruling will stand for another 30 more years. You said, “I despair when I look at who has the power today.” Do you still feel that way?
  • Legally, those state level laws can’t chip away at the constitutional right. But do you feel they can chip away at the national attitude?
  • You live in Texas. Just recently, Governor Rick Perry excluded Planned Parenthood from the state’s health care program for low income women. What are your thoughts on that?
  • Does any of this [the push to remove taxpayer funding for contraception] surprise you, having been on the front lines from the beginning?
  • Do you feel that the terms pro-choice and pro-life are so oversimplified that some people don’t actually know which one they identify with?
  • Abortion is a very emotional issue and a religious issue for a lot of people. As an attorney, you had to argue using very specific language about constitutional rights. Do you think that’s hard for people to understand?
  • You have said that the ‘70s were a really great time for activist women. Do you think now is a good time, too?
  • Are there any recent strides in the women’s movement that you have enjoyed being part of or witnessing?
  • The audio from your arguments before the Supreme Court is widely available online. Do you ever go back and listen to it?

To be fair, this interview is something of a  follow-up to one TIME magazine's Jessica Reaves conducted in 2003, and in that one, there was a query about Norma McCorvey's conversion. That said, the 2003 interview was equally deferential, failing to press Weddington with any tough questions:

  • How did you get involved in the Roe case?
  • What was it like, appearing before the Supreme Court at the age of 26?
  • How did your life change after the decision came down?
  • Norma McCorvey, the young pregnant woman who was the "Roe" in Roe v. Wade, has undergone a dramatic transformation from pro-choice poster child to pro-life activist. Do you maintain contact with her? What was your relationship like during the trial? Was there any indication she was not committed to her decision?
  • Roe was argued primarily as a privacy rights case. Do you believe that any successful challenge will be argued under the same umbrella?
  • The statutes established in Roe v. Wade have taken some hits over the past 30 years. Do you feel the ruling will stand for another 30 years?
  • New poll numbers from the Alan Guttmacher Institute show that support for abortion rights are waning somewhat, down from a high point in the early 1990s. What do you think is at the root of this shift?
  • You're a professor now. Do students in your classes ask a lot of questions about Roe v. Wade? Do you sense people born after 1973 have a sense of what it was like pre-Roe?

Criticism of Roe v. Wade need not be from the right, by the way. As Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner noted a few years back, there are liberal constitutional scholars like Laurence Tribe who believe that the fundamental reasoning underpinning Roe is garbage:

Laurence Tribe — Harvard Law School. Lawyer for Al Gore in 2000.

“One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”

“The Supreme Court, 1972 Term—Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law,” 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the court. … Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”

North Carolina Law Review, 1985

Edward Lazarus — Former clerk to Harry Blackmun.

“As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose, as someone who believes such a right has grounding elsewhere in the Constitution instead of where Roe placed it, and as someone who loved Roe’s author like a grandfather.”

“What, exactly, is the problem with Roe? The problem, I believe, is that it has little connection to the Constitutional right it purportedly interpreted. A constitutional right to privacy broad enough to include abortion has no meaningful foundation in constitutional text, history, or precedent - at least, it does not if those sources are fairly described and reasonably faithfully followed.”

The Lingering Problems with Roe v. Wade, and Why the Recent Senate Hearings on Michael McConnell’s Nomination Only Underlined Them,” FindLaw Legal Commentary, Oct. 3, 2002

It's also telling that TIME magazine has had not updated readers on McCorvey's pro-life work in years, although the magazine in March 1995 noted how pro-life activists moved next door to an abortion clinic that McCorvey worked at at the time:

Strident anti-abortion warriorsOperation Rescueset up shop today in the same Dallas office building as the health clinic that employs the woman whose landmark 1973 court case legalized abortion in the U.S. Only an interior wall separates the neighbors. Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, told Reuters she is not exactly thrilled with her new neighbors, but the clinic has no intention of moving out: "We are here for the duration."Operation Rescue'snational director Flip Benham said: "It's a tremendous place. At the killing center, at the gates of Hell, is where the church of Jesus Christ needs to be.'' TIME senior writer Richard Lacayo added: "Now we'll see what happens when we've got Roe v. Rescue."

TIME's David Van Biema subsequently reported on McCorvey's conversion in August 1995, but there has been no follow-up interview in the magazine's pages since, according to a search of the website for "McCorvey."