The woman behind the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, the 1973 case known as Roe v. Wade, died Saturday at age 69, decades after changing her position to become an anti-abortion activist.
Norma McCorvey died of heart failure at an assisted-living facility in Katy, Texas, according to journalist Joshua Prager, who is writing her biography. He said he was with McCorvey and her family when she died.
McCorvey was an unmarried 22-year-old who was pregnant for the third time when she became the representative of the argument that women should have a legal right to abortion. Denied an abortion in Texas, she brought a lawsuit that ended up in the high court and produced the class-action ruling establishing abortion rights for all American women.
By the time the lawsuit was won, however, McCorvey had already had her baby and given it up for adoption. Her mother had raised her first child, the product of a short-lived marriage; she also had given the second infant up for adoption.
Reversed her stance
McCorvey later publicly revealed her identity as Jane Roe and remained a staunch abortion-rights advocate into the 1990s. But in 1995, she became an evangelical Christian and reversed her position, joining an anti-abortion group with offices next to an abortion clinic where she once volunteered.
McCorvey expressed bitterness toward the attorneys who had represented her in the Roe v. Wade case, saying they were more interested in keeping her pregnant for their lawsuit than in helping her get the abortion she needed.
“I wasn’t good enough for them,” The Washington Post quoted her as saying, referring to pro-choice activists who were wealthy and well-educated. “I’m a street kid.”
Her autobiography, published in 1994 as I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice, described her experience with the lawsuit as well as a life haunted by dysfunctional parents, reform school, drug abuse, alcoholism, abuse, homosexuality and attempted suicide.
Challenge to original ruling
She had a long-term relationship with a female partner that ended decades later, and later converted to Catholicism and started her own anti-abortion movement. She traveled around the United States speaking out against abortion in her “Roe No More Ministry,” and filed a legal challenge to the original Roe v. Wade decision, which the Supreme Court rejected in 2005.
Since the mid-1970s ruling, 50 million pregnancies have been ended by legal abortions in the United States. Abortions have declined in frequency since contraceptives have become more widely available, but there is still a fierce debate in the country between advocates and opponents of the procedure.
McCorvey is survived by her daughter, Melissa, and two grandchildren. Nothing is publicly known of the two babies she gave up for adoption.