Norma McCorvey, whose legal challenge under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize abortion, died Saturday, Feb 18, of heart failure. She was 69.
McCorvey was 22, unmarried, unemployed and pregnant for the third time when in 1969 she sought an abortion in Texas, where the procedure was illegal except to save a woman’s life. The subsequent lawsuit, known as Roe v. Wade, led to Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established abortion rights, though by that time, McCorvey had given birth and given her daughter up for adoption.
Decades later, McCorvey underwent a conversion, joining the anti-abortion movement. A short time later, she underwent another religious conversion and became a Roman Catholic.
“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 Associated Press in 1998.
After the court’s ruling, McCorvey had lived quietly for several years before revealing herself as Jane Roe in the 1980s. She also confessed to lying when she said the pregnancy was the result of rape.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, she remained an ardent supporter of abortion rights and worked at Dallas women’s clinic where abortions were performed.
Her 1994 autobiography, “I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice,” included abortion-rights sentiments along with details about dysfunctional parents, reform school, petty crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, abusive husband, an attempted suicide and lesbianism.
But a year later, she was baptized before network TV cameras by the Rev. Philip “Flip” Benham, the leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America. McCorvey joined the cause and staff of Benham, who had befriended her when the anti-abortion group moved next door to the abortion clinic where she was working.
McCorvey also said that her religious conversion led her to give up her lover, Connie Gonzales. She said the relationship turned platonic in the early 1990s and that once she became a Christian she believed homosexuality was wrong.
She recounted her evangelical conversion and stand against abortion in the January 1998 book “Won by Love,” which ends with McCorvey involved with Operation Rescue.
But by August of that year, she had changed faiths to Catholicism. And though she was still against abortion, she had left Operation Rescue, saying she had reservations about the group.
McCorvey formed her own group, Roe No More Ministry, in 1997 and traveled around the country speaking out against abortion. In 2005, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by McCorvey to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
In May 2009, she was arrested on trespassing charges after joining anti-abortion demonstrators when President Barack Obama spoke at the University of Notre Dame. In July 2009, she was among demonstrators arrested for disrupting Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination hearing.
McCorvey married at the age of 16, but separated shortly after while she was pregnant. She says her mother tricked her into signing away custody of her firstborn and then threw her out of the house.
She gave a second child up for adoption, but when she got pregnant a third time she decided to have an abortion. She said she couldn’t afford to travel to one of the handful of states where it would have been legal.
In her book “I Am Roe,” she said her adoption attorney put her in touch with Texas lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were seeking a woman to represent in a legal case to challenge the state’s anti-abortion statute. She gave birth to the “Roe” baby in June 1970.