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Norma McCorvey (1947–2017)

by Legacy Staff

Plaintiff in the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion case.

Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff known under the legal pseudonym Jane Roe in the landmark case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the U.S., died Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, according to multiple news sources. She was 69.

McCorvey had been residing in an assisted living center in Katy, Texas. She was surrounded by family when she died, according to journalist Joshua Prager, who is writing a book about her.


During McCorvey’s eventful life, she held views on both sides of the vigorous debate over abortion in the United States.

Born Sept. 22, 1947, in Louisiana, she was raised in Houston, Texas. In 1969, at age 21, she became pregnant for the third time. Unmarried and unemployed, she tried to obtain an abortion in Texas, but the procedure was illegal at the time, except to save the life of the mother.

Her case was taken up by attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington. The case took three years to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, during which time McCorvey gave birth to her baby, who was put up for adoption.

McCorvey’s name in the case was changed to Jane Roe, and she did not play an active part in the case; nor did she attend any of the trials. In the 1980s, she publicly revealed she was Jane Roe and voiced dissatisfaction with her role in the process, claiming that she had been used by lawyers who needed a plaintiff to overturn Texas’ prohibition on abortion. However, she continued to publicly support abortion rights.

She published her first autobiography, “I Am Roe,” in 1994. The book covered her role in the case as well as her life story: being raised by dysfunctional parents, a troubled childhood, drug and alcohol use, teenage marriage to an abusive husband, and her relationship with her longtime, same-sex partner.

She also wrote about how her mother took custody of her first child and then threw her out of the house, and that her second child was put up for adoption. During her third pregnancy, she sought an abortion but lacked the funds to travel to a state where they were legal.

Following the publication of the book, she had a religious conversion and became an evangelical Christian. She then changed sides in the abortion debate and became active in the anti-abortion movement with Operation Rescue. She also ended her lesbian relationship, having changed her views on homosexuality as well. She published a second book, “Won by Love,” in 1998.

Later that year, she made another religious conversion, this time to Roman Catholicism. She also left Operation Rescue but continued to state that she was against abortion.
In 2005, she attempted to challenge Roe v. Wade with the McCorvey v. Hill lawsuit. The high court would not hear the case, however, considering the matter resolved.

More than 40 years later, Roe v. Wade remains the focus of the heavily politicized debate over abortion.

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