Jane Roe: Plaintiff in the “Roe V. Wade” Supreme Court Case (2024)

Jump to:

  • Who Was Jane Roe?
  • Quick Facts
  • Early Life
  • Roe v. Wade
  • Becoming an Anti-Abortion Activist
  • Personal Life and Later Years
  • Death and Deathbed Confession
  • Roe Baby’s Identity Revealed
  • Roe v. Wade Gets Overturned

Who Was Jane Roe?

Jane Roe was the pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff behind the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which determined that the right to an abortion was protected by the U.S. Constitution. McCorvey, who worked for abortion clinics following the 1973 ruling, later became an outspoken activist against abortion and tried to have Roe v. Wade overturned but was unsuccessful in her lifetime. Prior to her death in 2017, McCorvey delivered what she called a “deathbed confession” in which she never believed in the anti-abortion movement and only participated in it for financial gain.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Norma Lea Nelson McCorvey
BORN: September 22, 1947
DIED: February 18, 2017
BIRTHPLACE: Simmesport, Louisana
SPOUSE: Woody McCorvey
CHILDREN: Melissa, Jennifer, and Shelley

Early Life

Norma Lea Nelson was born on September 22, 1947, in Simmesport, Louisiana. Her father, a television repairman named Olin Nelson, abandoned the family when Norma was young, and her alcoholic mother, Mary Gautreaux, moved the family to Houston. Norma got into trouble for stealing at a young age and was made a ward of the court, spending time in a state institution, which she called the happiest times of her life, according to The Guardian.

In the early 1960s, Norma married Woody McCorvey when she was 16. They had a daughter together named Melissa, but Norma divorced Woody after he allegedly became physically abusive toward her. Norma signed custody of Melissa over to her mother, who then kicked Norma out of the house. McCorvey claimed her mother tricked her into signing the adoption papers, telling her they were insurance papers, but her mother said McCorvey willingly agreed to the adoption.

Roe v. Wade

McCorvey had another baby named Jennifer in 1967, who she gave up for adoption. Two years later, she became pregnant again; the father has never been publicly identified, except by the first name Bill. McCorvey attempted to get an abortion in Dallas, but when Texas law prohibited it, she was connected with lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were looking for a pregnant woman seeking an abortion so they could bring a case to trial and challenge the law. McCorvey agreed to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which led to the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.

McCorvey wished to remain anonymous, so she was given the pseudonym “Jane Roe,” which is used when the plaintiff wishes to remain anonymous. It took three years of trials before the Supreme Court verdict was reached, and so McCorvey was not able to receive an abortion and gave birth to the child, who was put up for adoption. At one point, McCorvey had claimed the child was the result of a rape, hoping that would improve her chances of getting an abortion, though she later admitted that was a lie. Later in life, McCorvey would reconnect with the child at the center of the case.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in McCorvey’s favor on Roe v. Wade, determining that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s right to have an abortion prior to fetal viability.

Becoming an Anti-Abortion Activist

Although anonymous during the case, McCorvey publicly identified herself as Jane Roe shortly after the verdict was reached. During the 1980s and early ’90s, she worked in abortion clinics and largely stayed out of the spotlight. But that all changed with the publication of her 1994 autobiography, I Am Roe. During a book signing event that same year, she was screamed at by evangelical minister and anti-abortion activist Flip Benham, who said she was “responsible for the death of 33 million children.” Despite this encounter, however, McCorvey and Benham became friends, and the next year, she converted to Evangelical Protestantism during a baptism Behnam performed in a Dallas backyard swimming pool, which was broadcast on national television.

McCorvey quit her abortion clinic job and became an advocate for Benham’s organization Operation Rescue, which sought to make abortion illegal. She expressed regret for her role in the Roe v. Wade case and said she believed she had been used and manipulated by pro-abortion activists. “I’m pro-life. I think I have always been pro-life, I just didn't know it,” she announced, according to The New York Times, adding that she considers any abortions after the first trimester to be “killing.” Benham claimed McCorvey had “been saved out of the abortion industry” and that she “feels very badly about what she helped usher into this nation.”

Personal Life and Later Years

McCorvey began identifying as a lesbian shortly after her marriage to Woody ended. She met Connie Gonzalez shortly after the birth of McCorvey’s third daughter, while Roe v. Wade was still before the courts. McCorvey and Gonzalez began a romantic relationship that lasted for 35 years, though McCorvey started calling their relationship “platonic” after her conversion to Evangelical Protestantism. (They continued living together until their relationship ended in 2006.)

Jane Roe: Plaintiff in the “Roe V. Wade” Supreme Court Case (2)

Norma McCorvey at a Smithville, Texas, park on July 15, 2011

McCorvey converted to Catholicism in 1998, the same year she published her second book, Won by Love. She continued to protest against abortion and, in 2004, sought to have Roe v. Wade overturned, claiming it should be reconsidered in light of new information about the long-term emotional harm abortion inflicts upon women. The case was dismissed by a federal appeals court.

McCorvey participated in several high-profile protests against abortion in later years and was arrested during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 after causing a disruption during Senator Al Franken’s remarks.

Death and Deathbed Confession

McCorvey died of heart failure in an assisted-living home in Katy, Texas, on February 18, 2017, at the age of 69.

Three years after her death, a documentary called AKA Jane Roe (2020) was broadcast on FX, which included an explosive interview with McCorvey that she called her “deathbed confession.” McCorvey claimed she never truly believed in the anti-abortion movement and only participated in it because it benefited her financially. “I took their money, and they put me out in front of the camera and told me what to say, and that’s what I’d say,” she said in the interview. When asked if it was all an act, McCorvey replied, “Yeah. I was good at it, too.”

Roe Baby’s Identity Revealed

The identity of Shelley Lynn Thornton, Norma’s third child who was at the center of the Roe v. Wade decision, wasn’t publicly known until 2021. Thornton didn’t even know her mother’s identity until 1989, when reporters from the National Enquirer revealed it to her. Thornton never met McCorvey in person, but they spoke via phone, after which Thornton felt McCorvey only wanted to connect with her “to use me for publicity.” In 2021, Thornton said she keeps her personal views about abortion “close to my chest” and resisted efforts from both sides to use her for political purposes.

Roe v. Wade Gets Overturned

In 2022, five years after McCorvey’s death, Roe v. Wade was reversed by the Supreme Court with the 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Thornton spoke out against the ruling, saying the decision to have an abortion should be a private, medical choice decided by a woman, her family, and her doctor. “Too many times has a woman’s choice, voice, and individual freedom been decided for her by others,” she said.

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Jane Roe: Plaintiff in the “Roe V. Wade” Supreme Court Case (3)

Colin McEvoy

Senior News Editor, Biography.com

Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.

Jane Roe: Plaintiff in the “Roe V. Wade” Supreme Court Case (2024)


Jane Roe: Plaintiff in the “Roe V. Wade” Supreme Court Case? ›

Norma McCorvey was an American activist who was the original plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling Roe

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States generally protected a right to have an abortion.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Roe_v
v. Wade, which made abortion legal throughout the United States. She was anonymized in the case as Jane Roe.

Who argued Roe v. Wade in Supreme Court? ›

Also interesting: Justice Harry Blackmun, who would write the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, spoke only twice during the oral argument. By contrast, Justice Thurgood Marshall spoke more than 10 times, Justices White and William Brennan more than 20 times, and Justice Stewart more than 30.

Who were the litigants in Roe v. Wade? ›

Sarah Weddington (upper left) and Linda Coffee (upper right) were the two attorneys who represented the pseudonymous "Jane Roe" (Norma McCorvey, lower left) against Henry Wade (lower right).

Who represented Roe in Roe v. Wade? ›

In March 1970, Weddington and her co-counsel filed suit against Henry Wade, the Dallas district attorney and the person responsible for enforcing the anti-abortion statute. McCorvey became the landmark plaintiff and was referred in the legal documents as "Jane Roe" to protect her identity.

Who were the Supreme Court justices that overturned Roe v. Wade? ›

How the 9 Supreme Court justices ruled on overturning Roe v. Wade
  • Clarence Thomas.
  • Samuel Alito.
  • Brett Kavanaugh.
  • Neil Gorsuch.
  • Amy Coney Barrett.
Jun 24, 2022

Who was the youngest person to argue before the Supreme Court? ›

Dr Sarah Weddington (born 1945; JD University of Texas Law School) made worldwide headlines in the early 1970s when she and Linda Coffee represented 'Jane Roe' in the landmark Roe v Wade abortion case. She is believed to be the youngest person ever to win a case before the Supreme Court.

Why was Roe v. Wade a controversial case Brainly? ›

The controversy surrounding the case stems from the intense debate over the legal, ethical, and moral implications of abortion. Proponents of the decision argue that it protected women's reproductive rights and gave them the autonomy to make decisions about their own bodies.

What action would violate the Ninth Amendment? ›

Answer: The action that would violate the Ninth Amendment is obtaining unauthorized personal information from a website. This is explicitly forbidden and would violate the Ninth Amendment which has to do with rights of people.

Who currently sits on the Supreme Court? ›

Current Members
  • John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, ...
  • Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice, ...
  • Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice, ...
  • Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice, ...
  • Elena Kagan, Associate Justice, ...
  • Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice, ...
  • Brett M. Kavanaugh, Associate Justice,

What was the significance of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade quizlet? ›

The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, affirms the legality of a woman's right to have an abortion under the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution.

What is Roe vs Wade for dummies? ›

Roe versus Wade, better known as Roe v. Wade, is the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion within the first two months of pregnancy. Up until then, individual state laws regulated abortions, thereby forcing women to illegal clinics or untrained practitioners.

What is the next target for the group that overturned Roe? ›

The Next Targets for the Group That Overturned Roe

Alliance Defending Freedom has won fifteen Supreme Court cases. Now it wants religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws—and is going after trans rights.

Is abortion no longer a constitutionally protected right due to a decision in? ›

In June 2022, in a devastating decision that will reverberate for generations, the U.S. Supreme Court abandoned its duty to protect fundamental rights and overturned Roe v. Wade, ruling there is no federal constitutional right to abortion. The ruling in Dobbs v.

How has the right to privacy changed because of Griswold and Roe give your response in the form of a short paragraph? ›

The Supreme Court has increased or expanded the right to privacy. Originally, the right applied to the privacy of one's own thoughts and the freedom to be left alone. After the landmark cases Griswold and Roe, privacy then included the right to control one's own body and family and home life.

Which statement best explains the outcome of Roe v. Wade after the 1973 ruling? ›

Which statement best explains the outcome of Roe v. Wade after the 1973 ruling? Women gained the right to end pregnancies, while states gained the right to restrict abortions.

What Supreme Court case covers the right to privacy? ›

Eisenstadt v Baird (1971), and Lawrence v. Texas (2003) are two of the most prolific cases in which the Court extended the right to privacy. In each of these cases, the Court relied upon the Fourteenth Amendment, not penumbras.

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