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The fascinating life of Norma McCorvey, the ‘Jane Roe’ in Roe v. Wade

Norma McCorvey, left, and her attorney Gloria Allred hold hands outside the Supreme Court in 1989. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

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Norma McCorvey was “Jane Roe.” She’s the Roe of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on this day 43 years ago.

When McCorvey first took her case to court in Dallas, she was a 21-year-old woman with a problem: She had no job, no husband and was many months pregnant with her third child. She had confessed to her mother she was attracted to women — and her mother promptly kicked her out of the house. Texas’s abortion restrictions allowed termination of a pregnancy only in cases which endangered the life of a mother — and so, with lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, McCorvey took her case to the Supreme Court. She won one of the most contentious decisions in history, but the decision came too late for her to terminate her pregnancy. She later gave the baby up for adoption.

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McCorvey kept her identity as “Roe” a secret until 1980, when she publicly acknowledged her role in the case. She later published a tell-all book, “I Am Roe,” detailing her journey through the world of reproductive rights, her relationships with women and her work in pro-abortion advocacy.

“I’m a simple woman with a ninth grade education who wants women to not be harassed or condemned,” she told the New York Times in 1994. “I just wanted the privilege of a clean clinic to get the procedure done. …  I just never had the privilege to go into an abortion clinic, lay down and have an abortion. That’s the only thing I never had.”

Just one year later, another New York Times profile told a different story: In a highly publicized 1995 baptism (yes, a literal baptism), McCorvey was reborn in the public eye as a devout evangelical and began working at Operation Rescue, an antiabortion group.

“It’s a career choice,” lawyer and friend Gloria Allred told Vanity Fair.

95 percent of women who’ve had an abortion say it was the right decision

McCorvey quit her job at a Texas abortion clinic, disavowed her lesbianism and eventually founded her own organization, Roe No More Ministry.

“The heart of the person who most symbolized abortion in this country has been touched and captured, if you will,” said Bill Price, president of Texans United for Life, at the time.  

McCorvey continued her life of political protest, this time working to overturn her namesake case. She was arrested in 2009 for protesting Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and she published a second book, “Won by Love,” which detailed her change in political and social views. “We’re getting our babies back,” she told CBS in 2003. She stood alongside other women at a news conference, some holding signs reading: “I regret my abortion.”

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