Roe v Wade, a lawsuit in 1970 that significantly impacted abortion laws in the United States, had a woman at the center of it all, Norma McCorvey, whom many Americans never knew her real name until recently.

Only known as Jane Roe to the public, Norma McCorvey sued the State of Texas through the Dallas County district attorney, Henry Wade. The Roe v Wade suit challenged a Texas statute that made abortion a criminal offense unless a woman’s life was at stake. The courts sided with her. 

Story of Norma McCovey (Jane Roe)

Norma McCorvey, a Texas woman in her 20s, was unmarried and already a mother of two children who had been given up for adoption. In 1969, Norma became pregnant. 

Jane Roe - Norma McCorvey
Norma McCorvey

She wanted to terminate the pregnancy due to her impoverished circumstances, but Texas statutes at the time criminalized abortion, only allowing it in the special circumstances where the life of the mother is on the line.

At the time, the practice was that women in the US who could afford it would travel to countries that permitted abortion to have it done or pay doctors to carry out the process safely and clandestinely. All of these options were not viable to Ms McCorvey due to financial constraints.

Roe v Wade

Henry Wade was the Dallas County district attorney, popularly known for the trial of Jack Ruby, killer of President John F. Kennedy‘s assassin in 1964.

According to legal procedure, attorneys filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County where Norma lived, on behalf of Ms Norma McCorvey and other women who were either pregnant or would get pregnant in the future and would like to have all options on the table.

Supreme court ruling in Roe v Wade

The case of Roe v Wade was ruled by the Texas Supreme Court to be in Norma McCorvey’s favor. This effectively makes Texas laws that ban abortion unconstitutional, especially in violation of the 14th Amendment, which grants rights to privacy.

Unsatisfied with the outcome of the lawsuit, the case was appealed to the US Supreme Court. The US supreme court upheld the earlier decision by the Texas supreme court.

In 1973, the US supreme court made a landmark decision, which sided with Norma McCorvey and divided pregnancy into trimesters with the following caveats. 

  • A woman can terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. 
  • The government may control pregnancy termination in the second trimester to protect the woman’s health.
  • To protect a matured fetus, states can ban abortion during the third trimester, except in the special circumstance where the health and life of the woman is at stake
US Supreme court
US Supreme court building

Jane Roe, however, gave birth and offered the child for adoption. Norma McCorvey went on to become a women’s rights advocate.

Norma McCorvey Deathbed Confession

In 1995, the iconic Norma McCorvey switched sides, became friends with Pro-life activists, became a Christian and joined the Catholic church. She publicly took the position of the church in opposing abortion.

But before Norma McCorvey died aged 69 in February, 2017, she granted an interview as part of an FX documentary (aka Jane Roe) in which she said she was paid to speak against abortion.

An evangelical minister, Rev. Rob Schenck who worked closely with Norma McCorvey corroborated her story, saying in the documentary that “She was coached on what to say and paid because of concerns she would return to the other side”. Schenck told CNN that he cut the checks, signed them and made them out to Norma and knew of other anti-abortion groups which did same.

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Pro-life activists Operation Save America have, however, denied the claims, with National Director telling CNN in a statement that “Norma was only given honorariums for her public speaking engagements.”

Norma McCorvey daughter speaks

In an interview with Jan Crowford of CBS Mornings, McCorvey’s oldest daughter Melissa Mills, spoke about her mother’s legacy.

“Not everybody’s meant to be a mother. And I didn’t expect that of her. She was the mother she could be”.

Asked how she would describe her mother, Mills said “She was really funny. She was the life of the party. I didn’t think of her as a mother figure, I thought of her more like a sister, because that’s how our relationship was,”.

Texas Heartbeat Bill 2021

Texas state governor Greg Abbott signed the so-called “Texas Heartbeat bill” in May 2021, a law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. 

The new law came into force in September 2021, after the US supreme court failed to respond to an emergency appeal by abortion providers.

Any individual can sue Doctors and abortion providers who perform pregnancy termination past the six-week point.