Gadson Alabama – Linda Faye Weeks never knew she won the lawsuit that made abortion legal in Louisiana, or that her case was being resurrected this week to try to ban abortion again.
“They did not tell me anything,” she said in a slow Southern drawl.
All Weeks remembers is trying to commit suicide in 1973 when she learned she was pregnant, and later calling the American Civil Liberties Union for help. She was a 21-year-old heroin addict when she lent her name to the ACLU’s class action suit. The group helped her get an abortion, and then she went on with her life.
The case of Weeks v. Connick was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and caused Louisiana’s anti-abortion law to be declared unconstitutional in 1976. On Friday, when New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick asks a three-judge panel to reverse its 13-year-old ruling, nearly everyone from the original case will be in the courtroom – except for Linda Weeks.
Weeks will remain in Alabama, where she occasionally works as a maid, but is mainly unemployed. She lives with an elderly man in a cramped, roach- infested house, with bars on the windows and brown paneling on the walls. It is a dingy home, where statues of Jesus and the Madonna flank the fireplace and the stench of chewing tobacco permeates every room.
On many days, Weeks says she medicates herself heavily with Valium and pain pills to soothe her nerves.
The 38-year-old woman, who is now a grandmother, only learned about the court case last week, after being contacted by Gannett News Service. An ACLU lawyer had made a brief attempt to find her, but never pursued the search.
“I’d like to see a copy of the lawsuit,” she said in an interview in a motel room.
She is a hefty woman now, looking nothing like her newspaper photographs from 1973, in which her long straight hair emphasized her narrow face and big, sorrowful eyes. Now, her face is thick with makeup, and her brown, streaked hair is in a bun on top of her head.
Describing her past as “a nightmare,” Weeks spoke reluctantly about her life, getting angry at times and refusing to answer questions. Her views on abortion seemed to form when she was a young girl in Alabama, where she was raised in poverty in a family of nine children.
After going to sleep hungry and being forced to share a bed with her sister, Weeks said she swore to herself that her life would be different.
“I was so scared of having a house full of kids that I would not get married,” she said, as she chain smoked. “I turned to prostitution rather than to poverty.”
Weeks eventually married four times, had two children, and three abortions. A high school dropout, she had her first baby when she was 17, and asked her sister to raise the infant girl since she was then addicted to heroin.
Four years later, Weeks discovered she was pregnant again. The Supreme Court had declared abortion legal nationwide just one month before, but Weeks knew nothing about Roe v. Wade. Telling no one she was pregnant, not even her husband, Gary Raimer, Weeks took an overdose of Tylenol, which plunged her into a coma.
Raimer found his wife sprawled out on their bedroom floor, and rushed her to the hospital. While she was recovering, they agreed not to have the child.
“There was no way we could do it,” said Raimer, who had met Weeks at the local methadone clinic. With both of them unemployed and still addicted to heroin, he said, “we felt a child couldn’t have a chance in this world.”
Weeks asked Charity Hospital to do the abortion, but it refused. At that time, state officials maintained that Roe v. Wade did not apply to Louisiana.
So, Weeks called the ACLU, where lawyers eagerly took the case. Now, they barely remember the lawsuit.
“It was a totally easy, unthinking kind of case,” said William Rittenberg, who worked on the lawsuit this year and in 1973, but has no memory of it. “You don’t have to be real creative after Roe v. Wade to get the 10-year felony for doing abortions overturned.”
Weeks remembers traveling to Washington D.C. for the abortion, and she remembers meeting the state Attorney General William Guste, whom she said questioned whether she was pregnant with her husband’s child.
She said she got involved in the court case because she was rebellious.
“I figured if it was for the people and the government was against the people, then we had to stand up for them,” she said.
After the abortion, though, she said she felt a loss and often had nightmares, seeing babies in her sleep. Over the years, she said, she decided abortion was murder.
“I went through so much pain because I did it,” said Weeks, breaking into sobs. “It hurts to think a baby was ripped apart at my request.”
Yet Weeks, who became a Christian in 1981, said she still believes abortion should be legal, at least in some cases.
“It’s murder. But it’s murder also to watch people starve to death and catch all the diseases and die,” she said. “If I had to have the baby and watch it die of malnutrition, I’d rather kill it before it was born.”