Norma McCorvey, the anonymous Jane Roe in the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade, died today of heart failure while in an assisted-living home in Katy, Texas. She was 69.
According to the New York Times, McCorvey’s death was confirmed by Joshua Prager, a veteran Vanity Fair reporter who is currently writing a book on her life.
In 1970, McCorvey became the central figure of what would become a fierce political and cultural debate when she filed suit for her right to have an abortion. At the time, abortion was illegal in most states except in cases when the life of the mother was in jeopardy. At the age of 21, McCorvey became pregnant with her third child in 1969 and made the choice to have an abortion.
In a PBS report from 2013, McCorvey was convinced by friends to claim that she had been the victim of rape, which, in Texas, would have allowed her to abort the pregnancy. At the time, McCorvey had developed a serious drinking problem and was struggling to work an assortment of odd jobs. When her efforts failed, McCorvey sought an illegal abortion, but was unable to find a facility since they had been closed down by authorities.
McCorvey was soon referred to Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, two Dallas attorneys who were looking for women seeking abortions in order to build a case that would overturn the restriction. McCorvey would later accuse Coffee and Weddington of misleading her, particularly since Weddington never revealed that she had her own abortion.
McCorvey adopted the pseudonym Jane Roe and the Roe v. Wade case was filed in the Dallas federal district court on March 3, 1970. At the time, McCorvey was six months pregnant, but according to a 2013 Vanity Fair profile by Prager, McCorvey still believed that could be “the first girl in Texas to get a legal abortion.”
As the case wound its way through the slow American legal system, McCorvey gave birth to her child and promptly gave the baby up for adoption. McCorvey largely stayed away from the legal proceedings and remained relatively unknown. Roe v. Wade found its way to the United States Supreme court, and on Jan. 22, 1973 the court delivered a 7-2 ruling stating that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment allowed a woman to seek an abortion. However, as a pregnancy grew, the decision stated, the interest of the state became stronger and states were allowed to apply greater restrictions on abortion.
McCorvey would eventually go on to advocate for the pro-choice movement and even spent time working in a Texas abortion clinic. But in 1995, McCorvey made a stunning reversal after becoming a member of the Roman Catholic church and began fiercely advocating against Roe v. Wade, thanks to a friendship with Flip Benham, an evangelical minister and National Director of the pro-life group Operation Rescue.
Once she made her conversion, McCorvey became a fixture at pro-life rallies and began expressing her regret for having an abortion.
“I still have a lot of shame for being involved with Roe vs. Wade,” she told the Dallas Morning News.
“Even though I know I’ve been forgiven by God, to tell you the truth, most of the time I can’t forgive myself.”
For years, McCorvey maintained the story that she had been raped, but in 1987 McCorvey recanted the rape claim, according to the Washington Post.
“I found out I was pregnant through what I thought was love,” McCorvey said at the time.
“I told [a doctor] that I wanted an abortion, that I did not want to carry the child for economic reasons.”
Though McCorvey’s reversal on her claim to being rape had no legal consequences, particularly in regard to Roe v. Wade, pro-life advocates believe her claim undermined the case.
[Featured Image by J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images File]