Norma McCorvey, later known as ‘Jane Roe’ in the landmark 1971 U.S. Supreme Court abortion decision of Roe v. Wade, died February 18 in Katy, Texas.
She was the plaintiff in the case and never attended any of the proceedings during the three years it took to come to a decision.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that because of the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, the right to privacy “extends to a woman’s right to make her own personal medical decisions.” That includes the decision to have an abortion without interference from politicians.
Here’s what you need to know about McCorvey:
1. McCorvey Gave Her 3 Kids Up For Adoption
McCorvey went on a trip to visit friends and left Melissa with her mom. But when she returned home, her daughter had been replaced with a baby doll. She was kept away from Norma for some time until she finally was able to visit her months later. McCorvey eventually moved back in with her mom and Melissa, but she was duped into signing adoption papers, thinking they were insurance papers that gave her mom custody of her first child.
McCorvey gave birth to another baby a short time after, but gave the child up for adoption.
It was her third pregnancy that led to the Supreme Court decision.
She became pregnant once more at the age of 21, and she sought an abortion in Texas, but was denied and referred to attorneys.
2. She Falsely Claimed Her Pregnancy Was Due to Rape
When she was pregnant with her third child, McCorvey lived with her father, who had left the family during her childhood. Upon receiving the news she was pregnant, she took her friends’ advice and claimed she had been raped to authorities in Texas. She did so because she thought she would qualify for an exception under state law, but she was denied, finding out that there was no exemption of the kind under Texas law.
Therefore, she tried to get an illegal abortion, but was unsuccessful in doing so after officials denied it. She was referred to two attorneys that were looking for pregnant women in Texas seeking an abortion to challenge state law, and they chose her case to do so.
3. McCorvey Later Became a Born-Again Christian
After the decision, McCorvey became an advocate for pro-choice movements and spent time working at an abortion clinic. She published an autobiography in 1994 titled I Am Roe, and that’s when her views on the subject began to change.
McCorvey became friends with Philip Benham, who is an Evangelical Christian minister and the leader of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group. Benham had an office space next to the clinic that McCorvey worked at.
As the two began to speak more on McCorvey’s smoke breaks, she started to change her mind on abortion.
In her second book, titled Won by Love, McCorvey wrote about changing her stance:
I was sitting in O.R.’s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. ‘Norma’, I said to myself, ‘They’re right’. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth — that’s a baby!
I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It wasn’t about ‘missed periods’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion — at any point — was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.
After the revelations, she changed her mind on abortion and also decided to become an evangelical Christian.
She was baptized in 1995 and became a Christian and a pro-life advocate. She had said she was going to dedicate the rest of her life to overturning the landmark decision.
4. Her Mom Was a ‘Violent Alcoholic’
McCorvey had a troubled childhood growing up in Texas.
A New York Times profile told the story of her younger years. Her grandma was a prostitute and a fortuneteller and her father was a TV repairman. Her mom was an “violent alcoholic,” the New York Times piece wrote, and it led to many troubling instances at a young age.
When she was just 10-years old, she stole from a gas station she had worked at and attempted to run away from home. After those incidents, she was send to boarding schools until 9th grade.
McCorvey suffered greatly from a sexual assault when she was 15. She had been sexually assaulted by a nun and a male relative.
5. McCorvey Was Married at 16
McCorvey, then Norma Nelson, got married when she was 16 to a steel worker named Woody McCorvey. She had met him while working at a fast-foot restaurant. She wrote in her autobiography that Woody frequently became violent and they divorced before the birth of her first child, Melissa in May of 1965.