The name Norma McCorvey may not ring familiar to everyone reading. However, the court case of Roe V. Wade is instantly recognizable to a sizable portion of the United States. The case between plaintiff Jane Roe and attorney Henry Wade that ultimately affirmed abortion to be a constitutional right is one of the most famous and controversial court cases in history.
McCorvey, the woman behind the pseudonym Jane Roe, passed away this year on Feb. 18 at the age of 69.
McCorvey was living at an assisted living facility in Katy, Texas at the time of her death, which has been attributed to heart failure.
Roe V. Wade and McCorvey’s involvement in the trial impacted the country decades ago, and repercussions of the ruling continue to this day.
The case between Roe V. Wade began in 1971. Texas law prohibited abortion, except for in cases in which a woman’s life was in danger. McCorvey filed a case which called into question whether or not abortion was a constitutional right, thus overruling the Texan law put into place prohibiting a woman from taking this action.
Because of this case, it was ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment protected a woman’s privacy, should she choose to have an abortion, which was now a constitutional right. The decision—a 7-2 ruling made on Jan. 22, 1973—resulted in changes to laws regarding abortion in 46 states. No state was allowed to deny an abortion in the first trimester of the pregnancy any longer.
In many states prior to the 1973 ruling, abortion was completely illegal. This caused many women of the time to turn to black market abortions, usually with unlicensed physicians, resulting in unsafe abortion practices and conditions for these women.
The move women made towards the black market did encourage a few states to change their policies concerning abortion, but it was not until Roe V. Wade that any nationwide impact was made.
Since this decision was reached in the 70s’, conflict has raged between the pro-life and pro-choice identifiers within the U.S. Politicians have gone back and forth, enacting and removing laws dealing with abortion as different political parties ascend and descend into power.
For example, when former President Bush introduced the “gag rule” in the 90’s which prohibited professionals at clinics across the country to mention abortion as an option to patients, Bill Clinton almost immediately denounced this ruling as soon as he took office.
The debate remains passionate, despite the time that has passed since the Roe V. Wade. We see the ongoing struggle today, as many fear the potential move to defund Planned Parenthood. The recent women’s march across the country saw many signs advocating for a women’s right to choose—for example, “My body, my choice.”
McCorvey herself held an interesting role within the ongoing battle as well. Many may think simplistically about McCorvey, seeing her in terms of her overarching status being attached to the name Jane Roe and envisioning her role coming to an end the minute the court case concluded. In reality, her involvement in the fight between pro-life and pro-choice supporters remained integral to her as a person until her death.
While once seen as the center of the movement towards the legalization of abortion, later in life, McCorvey opposed abortion, claiming her previous stance was wrong. She became a Catholic and voiced her newfound opposition to abortion just as vocally as she voiced her previous support. McCorvey even sought to have the ruling of Roe V. Wade overturned.
In her novel, ‘Won by Love’, McCorvey describes her realization: “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.”
McCorvey’s change in stance further complicates the ever-present debate on the legality of abortion. Abortion will undoubtedly continue to be a subject of debate in the coming years, especially with the recent shift in power of political parties.
McCorvey will be remembered for her role in the dialogue between pro-life and pro-choice activists, and for the changes implemented that forever changed the politics of abortion.