The Life and Death of Landmark Figure in Roe v. Wade


On Feb. 28, the central figure of Roe v. Wade passed away at the age of 69 due to heart failure. However, Norma McCorvey has often been referred to by her pseudonym, Roe. She had been known for being a major figure in the infamous 1973 case where the Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion.

McCorvey led a complex life while advocating for both sides of the controversial argument. She became the anonymous name behind the case while she was pregnant with her third child. Two lawyers, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, were in the process of searching for a plaintiff in the soon-to-be case of Roe v. Wade. They were arguing against Texas abortion laws and once they heard about McCorvey’s case, were introduced to her in hopes of using her story for their case.

Soon after, McCorvey became an advocate for the legalization of abortion, even though the case was resolved in 1970 and McCorvey’s child had already been born and adopted. McCorvey continued to support the cause by working in an abortion clinic for years after the case.

McCorvey dropped out of high school in ninth grade, citing a difficult and trying life at home. Her mother was physically and emotionally abusive towards McCorvey throughout her childhood. When McCorvey was sent away to a reform school, she was raped by her aunt whom she stayed with.

McCorvey’s first child, Melissa, was adopted by her abusive mother, Mary. Melissa’s father, McCorvey’s first husband, was also abusive. McCorvey and her mother have varying accounts on the reason for the adoption; McCorvey claims that her mother kidnapped Melissa because she disapproved of McCorvey’s sexual preference. According to McCorvey, once she told Mary that her sexual preference was for women, Mary forced Melissa away from her mother.

However, Mary claims that McCorvey’s alcohol and drug use is what motivated her to adopt Melissa, in addition to her promiscuity with partners of all genders.

McCorvey also had a second child, who was raised by the father.

In 1995, McCorvey’s religious beliefs and opinions of abortion rights shifted. She said that she no longer identified as a lesbian. She claimed that she and her partner of many years, Connie Gonzalez, still lived together, but they were no longer in a romantic relationship. She told The Washington Times in 1995 that “I am not a lesbian. I’m just a child in Christ now.”

McCorvey moved out after Gonzalez suffered from a stroke that left her incapacitated and in need of consistent care and attention. McCorvey continued to distance herself from her previous role in pro-choice movements when she endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2008. According to NBC’s Gabe Herman, McCorvey said: “I support Ron Paul for president because we share the same goal, that of overturning Roe v. Wade. He has never wavered on the issue of being pro-life and has a voting record to prove it. He understands the importance of civil liberties for all, including the unborn.”

McCorvey wrote about her conversion in “Roe v. McCorvey” with Gary Thomas. “I could out-cuss the most crass of men and women; I could out-drink many of the Dallas taverns’ regulars; and I was known for my hot temper. When pro-lifers called me a murderer, I called them worse. When people held up signs of aborted fetuses, I spit in their face.

I had a reputation to protect, after all. As the plaintiff in the infamous Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, my life was inextricably tied up with abortion. Though I had never had one, abortion was the sun around which my life orbited. I once told a reporter, “This issue is the only thing I live for. I live, eat, breathe, think everything about abortion.”

In 2006, she protested President Barack Obama’s commencement speech at University of Notre Dame. She told The Guardian that “President Obama is guilty of ‘child killing.’” She said, “When I got arrested, I loved it! I felt like I was high. But it was a God high. I’d never been arrested before. But who better to be arrested for than the unborn children?”

McCorvey never had an abortion, but her participation in the case sparked a long dispute over state abortion rights. The 7-2 court decision in 1973 invalidated bans on abortion. Her shift from pro-choice advocacy to working for a Christian group aimed to making abortion illegal sparked controversy, especially after the real name behind her pseudonym was released in the 1980s when she released an autobiography titled “I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice.”