The “Jane Roe” who pursued the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in the 1970s was an unmarried 22-year-old woman named Norma McCorvey, who would go on to be one of the procedures’ greatest supporters — and opponents.
With her courtroom alias forever linked to the 1973 case, McCorvey spent part of the next two decades as a leader in the abortion rights movement, but then switched sides in the 1990s, becoming an outspoken pro-life figure.
Finally, months before she died in 2017, McCorvey made a “deathbed confession” claiming that she’d made the change only after being paid to do so.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade Friday, here’s what we know about Jane Roe, her children and how her life played out in the public realm:
Who is Jane Roe?
McCorvey’s path to the center of one of America’s biggest controversies began when she sought to have an abortion in Texas in 1969. At the time, it was illegal to have the procedure in the state unless it would save a woman’s life.
McCorvey, who had already put her first two daughters up for adoption, had decided she wanted to abort her third pregnancy. She said she couldn’t afford to travel to the handful of states, including New York, where abortion would have been legal at the time.
In her autobiography “I Am Roe”, McCorvey said her adoption attorney connected her with Texas lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were seeking a woman to represent in a bid to challenge Texas’ anti-abortion law.
The Roe lawsuit was subsequently filed in May 1970 against Henry Wade, the district attorney in Dallas County, whose job it was to enforce the state law banning abortion.
While the case was still pending, McCorvey gave birth to the “Roe” baby later that year and put the child up for adoption.
The Supreme Court took up the Roe vs Wade case in 1971 and handed down its ruling, establishing abortion right, two years later.
Did Jane Roe’s views on abortion change?
After the Supreme Court ruling was handed down, McCorvey lived a quiet life before making her identity public in the 1980s. She spent the next few decades in a lesbian relationship and working in a Dallas abortion clinic.
McCorvey started monetizing her new-found celebrity by doing TV interviews and writing books as she continued to be an ardent supporter of abortion rights.
But in the mid-90s, McCorvey suddenly switched sides and became a face of the pro-life movement.
In 1995, she quit her job at the abortion clinic and joined Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group that had moved in next door. McCorvey went on to be baptized in front of TV cameras by Operation Rescue’s leader, the Rev. Philip “Flip” Benham.
Her religious conversion resulted in McCorvey ending her lesbian relationship because she believed homosexuality was wrong once becoming a Christian.
She ended up founding her own anti-abortion group, Roe No More Ministry, in 1997 and traveling the country speaking out against the procedure. In 2005, McCorvey tried to challenge her 1973 Roe ruling – but it was rejected by the Supreme Court.
In the months before she died, McCorvey told a documentary crew that she’d been paid to switch her support on abortion.
“I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say,” she says, without giving further details. “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my a–. That’s why they call it choice.”
Who are Jane Roe’s children and have they spoken out on Roe?
McCorvey gave birth to three daughters – the first when she was 16. She gave her mother custody of her oldest child, Melissa, shortly after giving birth. Melissa was the only one to maintain a relationship with McCorvey throughout her life.
In an interview with the Dallas News earlier this month, Melissa said her mother had gotten caught up between the pro and anti-abortion movements that were both battling to use her.
“Because of the part she played in Roe, everybody wanted a piece of her, they didn’t really want her to say what she wanted to, but they wanted something from her,” she said.
“She didn’t fit anybody’s mold and that was hard for her on both sides. For pro-choice she wasn’t rich or educated or well spoken, all of those things. For the pro-life people she was gay, an alcoholic, she had used drugs most of her life, she wanted an abortion, she wanted women to have the things they needed to take care of themselves.”
McCorvey also gave her second daughter, Jennifer, up for adoption but she has kept her identify under wraps.
Her third daughter, the “Roe” baby, also maintained her anonymity for more than 50 years before speaking out for the first time in September last year.
“She didn’t deserve to meet me,” Thornton told ABC News. “She never did anything in her life to get that privilege back … She wasn’t sorry, about giving me away or anything.”
Is Jane Roe still alive?
McCorvey passed away, aged 69, at an assisted living facility in Katy, Texas. She died of a heart ailment and had been ill for some time.
Her eldest daughter, Melissa, was with McCorvey when she died.
With Post wires