Roe: States Rights, Enter Stage Left

Performance & Theatre Arts

Jensie L Anderson is a clinical professor of law at the University of Utah College of Law. She’s also playing the lead character in Roe, a play written by Lisa Loomer in 2016. On October 30 at 4 p.m, Pygmalion Productions is putting on staged reading of this work at the Rose Wagner Performing Art Center Theater. Anderson’s character is Sarah Weddington: “Sarah was the attorney who represented Roe in the Supreme Court, a brand new lawyer,” explains Anderson, “The play spans much of her lifetime from her youth into the time she argues in front of the Supreme Court [and] into her later years.” Roe aims to portray the different points of view that attorneys and Jane Roe had as far as how this seminal case would play out. During her education to obtain her law degree, Anderson also minored in theater. “I was so focused on my legal career, I forgot about the passion that I had so long for theater,” Anderson says excitedly regarding her reintroduction to the performing arts. Most of Anderson’s legal career has been spent focusing on representing the wrongfully convicted, aiming to change lives by proving innocence. 

“Sarah was the attorney who represented Roe in the Supreme Court, a brand new lawyer,” explains Anderson.
Photo: Em Behringer

Sarah Weddington had only been a lawyer for a few years before she was to play a pivotal role in one of the most consequential cases on which the Supreme Court ruled. “It is important to think about the power of who this woman was,” says Anderson, “what she represented for women. She was a hero in the women’s rights movement. It was an honor to bring her to life as a lawyer myself.”

Roe is a call to action. It lays out how difficult it was for these rights to be codified by the Supreme Court. In 2016, Roe was not at the forefront of pro-choice minds, rather, it was something, even after the 1976 ruling, that most activists knew was always under threat. “It was written in 2016 and did foretell what was going to happen,” says Anderson, referencing the Dobbs decision. In the stage notes in the script, Loomer had left room for any changes to the ruling or status of Roe. This is noticeable as the play talks about Clarence Thomas’ concurrence where he encourages a reevaluation of other rulings such as gay marriage and access to contraceptives. This makes it clear that the Roe decision was a cornerstone precedent for many other decisions that relate to fundamental rights that we enjoy today. The goal of this 2022 reading is for people to realize what is now also under threat, and to realize that localized action is our best bet for regaining rights lost but also for protecting existing rights for other groups. 

Visit saltlakecountyarts.org/events/roe/ for tickets to Roe on October 30. The cost is $10 and all proceeds go to Planned Parenthood.One important aspect of the Roe V. Wade ruling was healthcare as a human right. It is all too common to use the most extreme examples of abortion in the debate against these healthcare decisions. It’s easy to neglect to acknowledge things like incomplete and dangerous miscarriages, unviable pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies and other unfortunate but common realities that Roe protected as healthcare decisions to be made by a woman and her doctor. “I don’t believe women use abortion as a birth control method,” affirms Anderson. “It’s a healthcare issue—physical health and mental health.” Medical doctors unable to give adequate care to patients is a painful and even mortally dangerous reality for many people living in a post-Roe world. Roe, the play, is able to capture what it took to provide this safety net and allow for these kinds of healthcare decisions to be protected. Roe makes clear that this was no easy feat for Weddington and the team of attorneys who argued and won this case in 1976.

The hope for our community is to spur action. “The Dobbs decision made clear that states get to decide. This means becoming deeply active in our states ,” encourages Anderson, but she also recognizes that, “while this play doesn’t leave you feeling hopeless, it does acknowledge the amount of hard work that went into Roe, while now also punctuating the work ahead to get it back.” Voting for our local representatives and making it clear to those politicians that this is still an important issue—a local issue—where change is possible. “We need to vote for our state representatives, become active in battling for our rights on a state basis. We can still influence these changes,” Anderson says. Things are not hopeless; the good fight is ahead of us.

Visit saltlakecountyarts.org/events/roe/ for tickets to Roe on October 30. The cost is $10 and all proceeds go to Planned Parenthood.

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