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Missoula woman remembered as abortion rights movement pioneer

Judy Smith 1.jpg
Posted at 9:47 AM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 11:57:13-04

BILLINGS - Sarah Weddington was 26 when she argued Roe v. Wade in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.

Weddington passed away in 2021, but visited in Montana in 2007 when she was the keynote speaker at a Planned Parenthood event in Billings.

MTN News had the opportunity to speak with her at length and get insight into the case and grassroots abortion rights movement — both stemming out of Texas.

Full Interview: Sarah Weddington in Billings

With Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that changed the course of Weddington’s life, we revisited her 2007 interview.

“It is a case that has captured public attention, some with approval, some with disapproval,” Weddington said.

“But there’s no question, for women it is the key — to women being able to decide all kinds of issues. To decide continuing school, employment, family, when their timing for important events would be and what their choice would be.”

The landmark case and women’s rights movement that led to it both stemmed out of Texas.

“A group of women, led by Judy Smith who [now] lives in Missoula, came to me with a couple men and said we’ve been gathering information about where women can get illegal, but safe abortions. Could we tell them this information? Or would we be prosecuted as accomplices?”

Weddington points to Judy Smith, who made Missoula her home for 40 years, as a pioneer in the abortion rights movement.

Smith and Weddington met through mutual friends at the University of Texas, where Smith was a graduate/PhD student and Weddington was a recent law graduate and new attorney.

Smith had been organizing and advocating for women’s rights in sexual health, including access to birth control and spreading the information on how to get it.

Smith and her peers spread the word through an underground news publication called The Rag. The Rag made waves on the UT campus and was fundamental in 1960s abortion rights activism. You can watch a documentary about it, by the People’s History in Texas here: The Rag: Austin Underground Press 1966-1977 – People's History in Texas.

Soon, women started calling Smith for help accessing abortions, then illegal, and Smith would help them get across the border to Mexico, where physicians would ‘look the other way’ and perform the procedure.

Smith convinced Weddington that abortion rights could win in court. Weddington started down a path doing research in the library and ended up arguing for Roe in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justices ruled in favor of Roe in 1973.

1973 was also the year that Judy Smith moved to Missoula, where she passed away in 2013 — the year that marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Photos in the video below are used with permission of The Rag and were originally taken by Alan Pogue. Additional photos are from the Associated Press and public domain.

Missoula woman remembered as pioneer in abortion rights movement