Jan 21, 2003, 9:50 AM EST

Lawyer,'Roe' Now at Odds on Abortion

Associated Press Writer
Associated Press

Sarah Weddington, the attorney who 30 years ago represented Norma McCorvey before the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, is shown in her office on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2003, in Austin, Texas. McCorvey, the young woman who sought an abortion, and Weddington, the fledgling lawyer who went to the Supreme Court and won her that right 30 years ago, are now on polar ends of the issue, but both will have cause to celebrate on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)

DALLAS (AP) -- They were on the same side 30 years ago, fighting for the right of women to get an abortion. But attorney Sarah Weddington and one-time abortion rights poster girl Norma McCorvey have sharply contrasting views today.

Weddington, the lawyer who tried the Roe v. Wade case and became an icon of the women's rights movement, is worried that as the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision approaches Wednesday, anti-abortion forces are gaining political strength.

"It's melancholy celebration," Weddington says. "I am more concerned today about the future of Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose than ever before."

McCorvey - the "Jane Roe" of the case - has converted to Roman Catholicism and became an anti-abortion activist since the landmark ruling.

"I have a great deal of hope that it will be overturned," says McCorvey, sitting in her Dallas living room, which is papered with images of Jesus, anti-abortion posters, books and bumper stickers.

The two women who made history together no longer talk.

McCorvey said she is praying for the woman she once idolized. Weddington said McCorvey's change of heart has no bearing on the case. But during a recent interview, she expressed curiosity about her former client.

"What's Jane Roe saying these days?" she asked.

Three decades after the landmark case, the future of legal abortion is more uncertain than it has been in years.

The balance on the Supreme Court would tilt if President Bush could replace one abortion rights justice with an anti-abortion justice. State laws have chipped away at access to abortion, and the Republican takeover of the Senate has raised hopes among those who oppose abortion for more federal judges who oppose the procedure.

Weddington isn't sure abortion-rights advocates can turn back the tide.

"There was a sense of we had won; we could check that off and go onto other issues," Weddington said. "It's a lot easier to get people excited and motivated and fully involved in trying to change something ... than it is to keep things the way they have been for the last 30 years."

Diana Philip, executive director of Jane's Due Process, an Austin-based group that helps minors apply for judicial waivers under Texas' parental consent law, said most of the teens who call the group's hot line don't know about Roe v. Wade.

"There is a population of women who don't understand that the rights could be taken away and don't feel a need to put their energy into defending that right," she said.

Weddington says the older generation of abortion-rights advocates faces the challenge of persuading these younger women.

"Unless you understand what it was like before Roe V. Wade, it's hard to understand why we don't want to go back," said Weddington, who had an abortion at age 21 in Mexico.

Weddington herself yearns to move on. After Roe, she became a state lawmaker, then a general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an assistant to President Jimmy Carter, and an author. Now living in Austin, she is a cancer survivor involved in cancer research. She still gives speeches about abortion but wants to focus on writing about women in leadership roles.

McCorvey's focus, however, hasn't strayed from the anti-abortion fight since she shocked the abortion-rights community in 1995 by joining the group, Operation Rescue.

McCorvey had originally said she needed an abortion because she had been raped but later said she lied, and put her child up for adoption. In 1994, she published an autobiography that disclosed a past including dysfunctional parents, reform school, petty crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, an abusive husband, a second unwed pregnancy, attempted suicide and lesbianism.

She said images from abortion clinics where she used to work still haunt her. "Dead children in glass jars and freezer bags," is how she recalled a Dallas abortion clinic.

She gives speeches about her experiences and heads her own small ministry called "Roe No More," which tries to dissuade pregnant women from considering abortion. She said each anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a reminder of her involvement in a decision she detests.

"It's 30 years of legalized abortion. It's the 30th year of knowing that 444 children a day are going to be killed by abortion," she says.

McCorvey applauds measures that have been taken to weaken legal abortion, including laws in many states requiring 24-hour waiting periods for abortions and laws requiring minors to notify or obtain the consent of a parent or guardian beforehand.

Weddington sees those measures as the erosion of what many women consider their birthright.

"The public is going to be seeing lots of different laws, regulations, things striking at the access to abortion, the legality of abortion, happening soon," she predicted. "I think if there's enough of an American public outcry about this, we can save at least some of it."

Copyright 2002 Associated Press.