Norma McCorvey, seen in 1983 – ten years after the Supreme Court ruling
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The landmark ruling legalized abortion across the country but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since.
The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy.
Due to state laws prohibiting abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment.
So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas district attorney, in 1970. The case went to the Supreme Court, under the Roe vs Wade filing, to protect McCorvey’s privacy.
Supreme Court decision
The Supreme Court ruled in the turning point 7-2 that a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions, including choosing to have an abortion, is protected by the 14th Amendment.
In particular, that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a woman’s freedom to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
Under the landmark ruling, abortions were decriminalized in 46 states, but under certain specific conditions that individual states could decide. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimesters, but not in the third (usually beyond 28 weeks).
Among pro-choice campaigners, the decision was hailed as a victory, meaning fewer women would become seriously — or even fatally — ill from abortions performed by unqualified or unlicensed practitioners. In addition, freedom of choice was considered an important step in the fight for equal opportunities for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest could have the pregnancy terminated and not feel coerced into motherhood.
McCorvey became a born-again Christian in 1995 and began advocating against abortion. Pictured above in 1998, she passed away in 2017
However, pro-lifers argued that it was tantamount to murder and that every life, however conceived, is precious. Though the decision was never reversed, anti-abortion activists have since pushed hundreds of state laws to narrow the ruling’s scope.
One was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned a procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)
After the verdict, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s, when she revealed herself as Jane Roe.
McCorvey became a leading, vocally pro-abortion voice in American discourse, even working in a women’s clinic where abortions were performed.
However, she made an unlikely turnaround in 1995, became a born-again Christian and began traveling around the country speaking out against the procedure.
In 2003, she filed a motion to overturn her original 1973 ruling in the US District Court in Dallas.
The motion went through the courts until it was finally rejected by the Supreme Court in 2005.
McCorvey died in February 2017 at the age of 69 in an assisted living facility in Texas.
Shelley Lynn Thornton (Baby Roe)
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) gave birth to Shelley Lynn Thornton in Dallas in 1970—a year before the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade case was filed. Shelley was the single mother’s third pregnancy. She gave her up for adoption the day after giving birth and then continued to fight for the right to abortion.
Shelley’s identity became public last year. She waived her right to anonymity and spoke out about the historic case in multiple interviews.
She says Norma used her for “publicity” and only tried to contact her for the wrong reasons when she was a teenager.
“It became very clear to me very quickly that the only reason she wanted to contact me and find me was because she wanted to use me for publicity. She didn’t deserve to meet me. She never did anything in her life to get that privilege back.
Baby Roe: Shelley Lynn Thornton, a 51-year-old mother of three, has spoken out on camera for the first time. Her biological mother Norma McCorvey was Jane Roe, whose landmark Roe vs Wade lawsuit won women across America the right to abortion
“She never expressed genuine feelings for me or sincere remorse for doing the things she did, and saying the things she did over and over,” Shelley said last year.
Shelley has declined to say whether she agrees with abortion, fearing armaments from both sides of the debate.
‘A lot of people didn’t know I existed. It’s not about me, I wasn’t the one who made this law. I’m not the one who made this move. I had nothing to do with it. I was just a little thing and, you know, circumstances prevailed.
“My whole thinking is, ‘Oh God, everyone is going to hate me because everyone is going to blame me for having abortions legal.’