Since the 1970s the term Roe v. Wade has been equated with the abortion controversy. “Wade” was Henry Wade, the District Attorney of Dallas County (Texas) who was fighting to keep abortion illegal in this country. “Roe” was Jane Roe, the anonymous lead plaintiff who was allegedly leading the fight for this “pro-choice” cause. In reality, Jane Roe was a young lady named Norma McCorvey, who months earlier had entered her doctor’s office in an effort to terminate her pregnancy. Her physician put her in touch with foster attorneys, who then organized a meeting between Norma and two eager lawyers, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington. These two ladies had been waiting for just the right person to help them file a court case that would liberalize abortion laws. With her name signed on the affidavit, Norma McCorvey went down in history as “the woman who made abortion legal.”
But what is the truth about her role in this monumental case, and how did it ever come into being? A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend several hours with Norma, and the story she revealed was a shocking one (2006). I should mention up front that Norma is now very much pro-life, and is fighting diligently to have the laws overturned. In fact, she used her prerogative as a party in the original court case to reopen the case and have it overturned. However, on June 19, 2003, a Texas judge (David Godbey) ruled that too much time had passed and that her request was not made within a “reasonable time.” This was later followed by the Supreme Court refusal to grant a writ of certiorari on February 22, 2005, effectively eliminating her appeal.
Who was this woman, and what role did she really play? One of the biggest shockers I learned was the fact that Norma (aka Jane Roe) never received an abortion or even entered a courtroom regarding this infamous court case. She was simply a pawn who signed her name on a piece of paper in Texas. In conveying how it all began Norma noted:
I found myself pregnant for the third time, second time out of wedlock. I went to one doctor, and told him I wanted an abortion. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what it meant, but I wanted one. Kinda like he could just put it in a package and I’d be outta there.... I just knew I didn’t want to have the baby. I took a bunch of drugs. I threw myself down a flight of stairs. I’d thrown myself in front of moving traffic. I mean, I did not want to have this child. I even went to a place they called an illegal abortion clinic. I don’t know if it was an abortion clinic or not, because I didn’t stay around that long.
Many people are under the impression that Jane Roe was a devout fighter for women—that she was a radical feminist who expanded the borders of women’s rights. The truth was she was simply trying to make a living. She told me: “I was more involved with the Vietnam War efforts than I was equal rights or era or anything like that.”
Realizing that her child was going to be born into this world, she finally talked her physician into giving her the name of an attorney that dealt in adoptive/foster cases. This lawyer listened to Norma and then introduced her to two people who would change her life forever. McCorvey lamented:
To make a long story short, I met with Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, and they—how do I say this, they upset me. They said, “Oh Norma, don’t you realize that women drive cars? Oh Norma, don’t you realize that women get to smoke in public? Oh Norma, don’t you know that women get to vote?” I finally told them, “Hey look, I just came for the pizza and beer, because I was hungry.” I met with them three or four times. I signed the affidavit that brought Roe v. Wade into being on March 17, 1970, and I found out about Roe v. Wade just like everyone else did. I read it in the newspaper.
Unsure I heard her correctly, I questioned, “Excuse me, are you telling me you were not aware that it was going on—that it had been sent to the Supreme Court?” She replied: “I was a paint contractor. I worked for HUD properties, so I was busy making a living. I didn’t care about women voting. I didn’t care about them smoking in their cars and driving, or climbing the glass ceiling.” So I asked Norma, “Did you ever attend courtroom sessions?” Her response stunned me. She quickly replied, “No, never.” Norma was the pawn. Having indulged in the free pizza, she signed her name to an affidavit, and forever changed the course of American history. The effects the case had on her life were obvious as we talked. She told me on more than one occasion that her life revolved around the topic of abortion—and that the early decision to sign that piece of paper lead to a life of drug and alcohol abuse. While many still tout “pro-choice” and “women’s rights” as the crusading call to keep abortion legal, the woman who started it all is appealing to all those who will listen that we must stop killing “a beating heart.”
McCorvey, Norma (2006), Personal Interview, Chattanooga, TN, May 18.
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