Just this week I stumbled across a fascinating Vanity Fair article from last February, about the woman who was the Roe in Roe v Wade, and if you didn’t know about the backstory as I did not, it will surprise you!
Norma McCorvey, under the pseudonym Jane Roe, was the plaintiff in the lawsuit in 1970, when she was pregnant for a third time and living in Texas, where abortion was forbidden except to save the life of the pregnant woman. The Wade in Roe v. Wade was Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade, named as the defendant.
Norma McCorvey was a lesbian woman with two children who was drafted to be “Roe” so that two young attorneys could file the lawsuit, and who delivered her third baby before the initial ruling was handed down. Norma McCorvey’s identity was kept hidden for another ten years, but during the 1980s the public learned about the womam whose lawsuit struck down most abortion laws in the United States. In 1995, Norma McCorvey made news again, when she announced that she had become a “pro-life” Christian.
Norma Nelson McCorvey was a high-school dropout who had run away from home and been sent briefly to reform school. Her parents divorced when she was 13. She met and married Elwood McCorvey at age 16, and left Texas for California. When she returned, pregnant, her mother took her daughter Melissa to raise. While her mother was raising her daughter, Norma was abusing drugs and alcohol and sleeping with a succession of women. Norma continued to have relationships with men too, and in 1967, at age 19, Norma became pregnant for a second time. This baby was given up at birth to a waiting adoptive couple that has kept their identity private.
In September 1969, McCorvey became pregnant for a third time. She initially said that this pregnancy, the one she was carrying at the time of Roe v. Wade, resulted from rape, but many years later admitted she had invented the rape story in an attempt to make a stronger case for an abortion.
Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee were the Roe v. Wade plaintiff’s lawyers. Both in their 20s, they were looking for a woman who wanted an abortion, but did not have the means to obtain one. An adoption attorney introduced them to Norma McCorvey. They needed a plaintiff who would remain pregnant without traveling to another state or country where abortion was legal.
Linda Coffee filed Roe v. Wade on March 3, 1970, when Norma McCorvey was already 6 months pregnant. Meanwhile, Coffee and Sarah Weddington amended Roe to make it a class-action suit, so that any ruling would apply to all women in Texas. The hearing began in May and ended in mid-June when a three-judge panel struck down the Texas abortion statutes. The state appealed the decision immediately, and for awhile the Texas statutes remained law. McCorvey delivered her third child even before the three-judge panel handed down its ruling. This baby also was adopted by a family that has kept its identity private.
Roe v Wade continued on to the Supreme Court; oral arguments were heard in December 1971. After Justices Harlan and Black retired, Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist replaced them, and oral arguments were heard again the following October. Three months later, in January 1973, the justices handed down the decision that has altered America’s political landscape.
Soon after, McCorvey met Connie Gonzalez. They lived together for many years, and in 2004, Gonzalez suffered a stroke. They applied for food stamps in 2005. The next year, McCorvey made a public plea for financial help “because we were hungry,” she told The Dallas Morning News. Gonzalez soon required more care, and McCorvey simply left her, moving far away to a house in Smithville, midway between San Antonio and Houston.
Norma McCorvey remains active in the pro-life movement, and I’ve also learned that she was at the University of Notre Dame (where I worked at the time) when the campus and community erupted in protest at the university’s invitation to Barack Obama in 2009 to deliver the commencement address.