Photo of Norma McCorvey, featured on the left, and her attorney, Gloria Allred, featured on the right, outside the US Supreme Court in 1989.

Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaul

Photo of Norma McCorvey, featured on the left, and her attorney, Gloria Allred, featured on the right, outside the US Supreme Court in 1989.

Norma McCorvey

Norma McCorvey, also known as Jane Roe, was born on Sept. 22, 1947, in Simmesport, Louisiana. A daughter of a single mother, she grew up suffering from financial hardship, after her father abandoned her at the age of nine. McCorvey frequently got into trouble with the police and was sent to a reform school. 

As a teenager, McCorvey was briefly married to Elwood “Woody” McCorvey, and the couple had two children together. McCorvey’s mother raised her first child, and her second was put up for adoption after birth. In 1969, McCorvey was pregnant with a third child and wanted to have an abortion, starting the long history of Roe v. Wade in the US. 

Unfortunately in Texas at the time, abortions were only legal if carrying the pregnancy to term posed a risk to the mother’s life. McCorvey was then referred to lawyers, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who had already been conducting plans to challenge current abortion laws in place. 

In 1970, the three women met together in Dallas, Texas and had a discussion about current abortion laws in the US. At the time, abortions were illegal all over the country. Those who wanted to have the procedure had to travel to other countries where it was legal. Those who couldn’t afford to travel were forced to carry the pregnancy to term, and the number of unsafe and illegal abortions also began to grow. 

Dr. James Hallford, a doctor in Texas who had previously gotten in trouble for performing abortions, also joined the case with Weddington, Coffee and McCorvey in the lawsuit to challenge abortion laws in court. Unfortunately, by the time the case made its way to the US Supreme Court, McCorvey had not been able to get an abortion and put her child up for adoption. 

Then, in the US Supreme Court on Dec. 13, 1971, Weddington argued the case before an all-male court, and then the case was reargued on Oct. 11, 1972. Rearguments are exceedingly rare scenarios, and only typically tend to take place with more controversial issues. On Jan. 22, 1973, seven of nine justices voted in favor of Roe v. Wade, protecting the right to an abortion before the viability of a fetus. 

McCorvey published two memoirs in her life, I Am Roe, (1994; with Andy Meisler), and Won by Love, (1997; with Gary Thomas). After Roe’s landmark ruling, McCorvey joined pro-life organizations and then protested against abortion rights in America. As a lesbian, McCorvey never found a place on either side of the movement. The conservative movement viewed lesbianism as immoral, and she never felt accepted on either the pro-life or the pro-choice in her later years.  She passed away on Feb. 18, 2017, but she will never be forgotten for her contributions to womens’ reproduction rights in America. 

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