“Inspiring.” “Unforgettable.” “Enlightening.” “Informative.” “Amazing speakers.” “This was surely one of the best Women and the Law Conferences ever.”
These are just a few of the comments from both attendees and participants alike about the 12th Annual Women and the Law Conference held at Thomas Jefferson School of Law on Friday, February 24. The conference, “Reproductive Justice: Examining Choice and Autonomy in the New Millennium,” received universal praise.
The highlight of the conference was the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture, delivered by a Texas attorney whom the conference’s principal organizer, Professor Joy Delman, described as “a living legend,” Dr. Sarah Weddington. She earned her place in history by successfully arguing the Roe v. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972.
“If you’ve ever been to the Supreme Court, you will never forget it,” Dr. Weddington told the audience of that historic appearance she made as a young lawyer. “Nothing tops winning Roe. v. Wade,” she said. “Just think of the impact it has had on women in the United States.”
Her lecture topic was “Women Lawyers: The Importance of Leadership,” as she recounted the many hurdles and discouraging advice she had to overcome in order to be a successful lawyer, including the college dean who told her: “No woman from this college has ever gone to law school.”
“The more opposition you come up against, the stronger it makes you,” Dr. Weddington said, who was one of only five women in her law school class.
She described the genesis of the Roe v. Wade case and the many stages it went through to reach the Supreme Court, as well as a vivid description being in the grand courtroom there to argue the case.
Noting that next year is the 40th anniversary of that landmark decision, Dr. Weddington said, “It is still a vital issue. Access is getting more and more difficult. We need the leadership and energy of the younger generation to work on this issue.”
Dr. Weddington received a warm and enthusiastic standing ovation as she ended her inspiring presentation.
Each presenter at the conference brought a unique, fascinating and dynamic perspective to the issues involved in reproductive justice, including TJSL Professor Brenda Simon, who spoke on the topic “The Implications of Gene Patents.” She presented a fascinating picture of why certain genes have become patentable and the implications of the patents.
Professor Simon was part of a panel, moderated by conference co-organizer and TJSL Professor Thomas Golden, that was a look into the brave new world of the rapid technological changes in reproduction as well as the “commodification of women’s reproductive rights.”
Also on that panel was Professor Hank Greely, who is the director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School, as well as a professor of genetics at Stanford Medical School. He spoke of the “coming flood of pre-natal genetic testing” that will be soon available to women on a routine basis. He cautioned, though, that while science is “30 years ahead, politics are 30 years behind” on the issues these technological advances create.
Another conference co-organizer, TJSL Professor Maureen Markey, moderated the second discussion panel “Abortion Rights in a Post Roe V. Wade world, and introduced Dr. Weddington. TJSL alumnus Vince Hall ‘08, the Vice-President of Public Affairs and Communications at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest was also a panelist, discussing a provider’s perspective of abortion rights in the United States.
The third panel of the day, moderated by TJSL professor Meera Deo, addressed “the effect of race, class and sexual orientation regarding access to and attitudes about reproductive services.”
Among the attendees who were inspired by the conference, especially by Dr. Weddington, were 1Ls Tessa Cabrera and Jaime Zavalasoto.
“Attending the Women & the Law Conference was a privilege and hearing Sarah Weddington’s experience arguing Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court was inspiring and a once in a lifetime experience,” Cabrera said. “She truly is a pioneer for women's rights. We can only aspire to follow along the trail she has blazed not only for women but for everyone.”
Zavalasoto was honored to personally meet with Dr. Weddington after her keynote address. “It was important to meet her because I find her to be an inspiration for having the courage to change the face of history and stand up for the reproductive rights of women,” he said. “I find it fascinating that Roe v. Wade was the first case she litigated and she went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court successfully arguing the case. Her speech was incredible and the way she described her experience was incredible. It was so vivid, it gave me goose bumps and I felt I was the one walking up those marble steps!”
Professor Joy Delman expressed deep gratitude to her co-organizers, Professors Golden and Markey, as well of all of the people who made the conference possible.
“Not only did we hear words of praise and inspiration from conference attendees, but every one of our speakers expressed their gratitude at being invited to participate in what each described as one of the best conferences they had ever attended,” said Professor Delman. “They expressed tremendous gratitude for being given the opportunity to participate.”
The Women and the Law Conference was co-sponsored by the four Academic Centers at Thomas Jefferson School of Law: the Center for Global Legal Studies, the Center for Law and Intellectual Property, the Center for Law and Social Justice, and the Center for Sports Law and Policy. The conference was also generously supported by Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.
TJSL Professor Joy Delman comments on the success of the Women and The Law Conference: