Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff known as “Jane Roe” in the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, has died at 69.
According to the Washington Post, McCorvey was 22-years-old when she became pregnant for the third time in 1969. But abortion was mostly illegal in her home state of Texas, and her case was taken up by attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, both recently out of law school and looking for a plaintiff to try the constitutionality of Texas’s abortion law.
Roe v. Wade became a class-action suit, and the ensuing 7-to-2 ruling articulated that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is protected by a constitutional right to privacy. Though the suit had sweeping implications for generations of women to come, it actually bore little relevance to McCorvey herself. After her initial court victory, Texas launched an appeal, and by the time the Supreme Court finally handed down its decision, McCorvey’s baby was 2 1/2 years old. She’d given the child up for adoption, and only learned of the ruling in a newspaper article.
In the years after the ruling, McCorvey became an evangelical Christian and ardent anti-abortion advocate. From ABC7:
“I’m 100 percent pro-life. I don’t believe in abortion even in an extreme situation. If the woman is impregnated by a rapist, it’s still a child. You’re not to act as your own God,” she told The Associated Press in 1998.
McCorvey only revealed that she was “Roe” in the 1980s, and spent the duration of that decade and the next as a supporter of abortion rights. Things changed once she befriended Reverend Philip “Flip” Benham, who founded the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, eventually renamed Operation Save America. She later split from the organization, saying she found it overly confrontational. Benham, for his part, referred to McCorvey as someone who “just fishes for money.”
McCorvey died of heart failure in a Texas-assisted living home, confirmed Joshua Prager, a New York-based journalist who is writing a book about her and the decision to which she is irrevocably intertwined. She is survived by her daughter, Melissa, and two grandchildren. Nothing is known about the children McCorvey gave up for adoption.