NORMA McCORVEY, better known by the legal pseudonym “Jane Roe“, was born on this date. She was the plaintiff in the landmark American legal case Roe v Wade in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that individual state laws banning abortion were unconstitutional.
McCorvey was born in Simmesport, Louisiana. She was raised at her family’s residence in Lettsworth in Pointe Coupee Parish. Later in her childhood, the family moved to Houston, Texas. McCorvey’s father, Olin Nelson, a TV repairman, left the family when she was 13 years old, and her parents subsequently divorced. She and her older brother were raised by their mother, Mary, a violent alcoholic. McCorvey’s father died on September 27, 1995.
While working at a restaurant, Norma met Woody McCorvey (born 1940), and married him at the age of 16 in 1963. She later left him after he allegedly assaulted her. She moved in with her mother and gave birth to her first child, Melissa, in 1965. After Melissa’s birth, McCorvey developed a severe drinking and drug problem. Soon after, she began identifying as a lesbian. She went on a weekend trip to visit two friends and left her baby with her mother. When she returned, her mother replaced Melissa with a baby doll and reported her to the police as having abandoned her baby, and called the police to take her out of the house. She would not tell her where Melissa was for weeks, and finally let her visit her child after three months. She allowed McCorvey to move back in. One day, she woke McCorvey up after a long day of work; she told McCorvey to sign what were presented as insurance papers, and she did so without reading them. However, the papers she had signed were adoption papers, giving her mother custody of Melissa, and McCorvey was then kicked out of the house. The following year, McCorvey again became pregnant and gave birth to a baby, who was placed for adoption
In 1969, at the age of 21, McCorvey became pregnant for a third time and returned to Dallas. According to McCorvey, friends advised her that she should assert falsely that she had been raped by a group of black men and that she could thereby obtain a legal abortion under Texas’s law, which prohibited most abortion; sources differ over whether the Texas law had such a rape exception. Due to lack of police evidence or documentation, the scheme was not successful, and McCorvey later said it was a fabrication. She attempted to obtain an illegal abortion, but the recommended clinic had been closed down by authorities. Her doctor, Richard Lane, suggested that she consult Henry McCluskey, an adoption lawyer in Dallas. McCorvey stated that she was only interested in an abortion, but agreed to meet with McCluskey.
Eventually, McCorvey was referred to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were looking for pregnant women who were seeking abortions. The case took three years of trials to reach the Supreme Court, and McCorvey never attended a single trial. In the meantime, she gave birth to the baby and placed it for adoption. Soon after, she met and began a long-term relationship with Connie Gonzales.
McCorvey revealed herself to the press as being “Jane Roe” soon after the decision was reached, stating that she had sought an abortion because she was unemployable and greatly depressed. In 1983, McCorvey told the press that she had been raped. In 1987, she said the rape claim was untrue.
Later, McCorvey became a Roman Catholic activist in the anti-choice movement. McCorvey had stated that her involvement in Roe was “the biggest mistake of [her] life.”
However, in what McCorvey referred to as her “deathbed confession” during an interview shortly before her death, she said she had been paid for her anti-abortion activism, and it had been “all an act.” McCorvey said her anti-abortion activism had been “all an act”, which she did because she was paid, stating that she did not care whether a woman got an abortion. “I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say,” McCorvey said. “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice,” she added.
On May 22, 2020, a documentary titled AKA Jane Roe aired on FX, describing McCorvey’s life and her alleged financial incentives to change her views on abortion. Robert Schenck, an evangelical pastor who worked with McCorvey, supported what was in the documentary. He acknowledged that his group had paid McCorvey to speak against abortion and stated: “Her name and photo would command some of the largest windfalls of dollars for my group and many others, but the money we gave her was modest. More than once, I tried to make up for it with an added check, but it was never fair.”
As Roe v. Wade made its way through the courts, McCorvey began a relationship with Connie Gonzalez. They lived together in Dallas for 35 years. After converting to Christianity, McCorvey continued to live with Gonzalez, though she described their relationship as platonic. Later in life, McCorvey stated that she was no longer a lesbian. McCorvey moved out of the house she shared with Gonzalez in 2006, shortly after Gonzalez suffered a stroke.
McCorvey died of heart failure in Katy, Texas on February 18, 2017, at the age of 69.