Norma Leah Nelson McCorvey (September 22, 1947 – February 18, 2017), better known by the legal pseudonym "Jane Roe", was the plaintiff in the landmark American lawsuit Roe v. Wade in 1973. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual state laws banning abortion are unconstitutional. Later, McCorvey's views on abortion changed substantially; she became a Roman Catholic activist in the anti-abortion movement. McCorvey stated that her involvement in Roe was "the biggest mistake of [her] life."
McCorvey in 1989
Norma Leah Nelson
September 22, 1947
Simmesport, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||February 18, 2017 (aged 69)|
Katy, Texas, U.S.
|Other names||Jane Roe|
|Known for||Roe v. Wade|
Elwood McCorvey (m. 1963–1965)
|Partner(s)||Connie Gonzales (1970–1993)|
McCorvey was born in Simmesport, Louisiana. She was briefly raised at her family's residence in Lettsworth in Pointe Coupee Parish. Later in her childhood, the family moved to Houston, Texas. McCorvey's father, Olin Nelson, a TV repairman, left the family when she was 13 years old and her parents subsequently divorced. She and her older brother were raised by their mother Mary, a violent alcoholic. McCorvey's father died on September 27, 1995. She was of partial Cajun ancestry.
McCorvey had entered a Catholic boarding school prior to her minor troubles with law enforcement that started at the age of ten, when she robbed the cash register at a gas station and ran away to Oklahoma City with a friend. They tricked a hotel worker into letting them rent a room, and were there for two days when a maid walked in on her and her female friend kissing. McCorvey was arrested and taken to court, where she was declared a ward of the state and sent to state-run institutions.
Later, McCorvey was sent to the State School for Girls in Gainesville, Texas, on and off from ages 11 to 15. She said this was the happiest time of her childhood, and every time she was sent home, would purposely do something bad to be sent back. After being released, McCorvey lived with her mother's cousin, who allegedly raped her every night for three weeks. When McCorvey's mother found out, her cousin claimed McCorvey was lying.
While working at a restaurant, Norma met Woody McCorvey (born 1940), and she married him at the age of 16 in 1963. She later left him after he allegedly assaulted her. She moved in with her mother and gave birth to her first child, Melissa, in 1965. After Melissa's birth, McCorvey developed a severe drinking and drug problem. Soon after, she began identifying as a lesbian. She went on a weekend trip to visit two friends and left her baby with her mother. When she returned, her mother replaced Melissa with a baby doll and reported her to the police as having abandoned her baby, and called the police to take her out of the house. She would not tell her where Melissa was for weeks and finally let her visit her child after three months. She allowed McCorvey to move back in, and one day woke McCorvey up after a long day of work. She told McCorvey to sign insurance papers, and she did so without reading. However, she signed adoption papers, giving her mother custody of Melissa, and was then kicked out of the house. The following year, McCorvey again became pregnant and gave birth to a baby, who was placed for adoption.
Roe v. WadeEdit
In 1969, at the age of 21, McCorvey became pregnant a third time and returned to Dallas. According to McCorvey, friends advised her that she should assert falsely that she had been raped by a group of black men and that she could thereby obtain a legal abortion under Texas's law which prohibited abortion; sources differ over whether the Texas law had such a rape exception. Due to lack of police evidence or documentation, the scheme was not successful and McCorvey would later admit the situation was a fabrication. She attempted to obtain an illegal abortion, but the recommended clinic had been closed down by authorities. Her doctor, Richard Lane, suggested that she consult Henry McCluskey, an adoption lawyer in Dallas. McCorvey stated that she was only interested in an abortion but agreed to meet with McCluskey.
Eventually, McCorvey was referred to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were looking for pregnant women who were seeking abortions. The case took three years of trials to reach the Supreme Court of the United States, and Norma never attended a single trial. In the meantime, she had given birth to the baby in question, who was eventually adopted. Soon after, she met and began a long term relationship with Connie Gonzales.
McCorvey revealed herself to the press as being "Jane Roe" soon after the decision's issuance and stated that she sought an abortion because she was unemployable and greatly depressed. In 1983, McCorvey stated to the press that she was raped. She would later recant in a 1987 television interview with Carl Rowan that the previous claims were untrue.
McCorvey would later assert that she had been the "pawn" of two young and ambitious lawyers (Weddington and Coffee) who were looking for a plaintiff with whom they could challenge the Texas state law prohibiting abortion.
Books and conversionEdit
In her first book, the 1994 autobiography, I Am Roe, McCorvey wrote of her sexual orientation. For many years, she had lived quietly in Dallas with her long-time partner, Connie Gonzales. "We're not like other lesbians, going to bars," she explained in a New York Times interview. "We're lesbians together. We're homers." That same year, she became a Christian and voiced remorse for her part in the Supreme Court decision. McCorvey worked as part of the pro-life movement, such as Operation Rescue.
At a signing of I Am Roe, McCorvey was befriended by evangelical minister and National Director of Operation Rescue Flip Benham and later baptized on August 8, 1995, by Benham, in a Dallas, Texas, backyard swimming pool, an event that was filmed for national television. Two days later she announced that she had quit her job at the abortion clinic she was working at and had become an advocate of Operation Rescue's campaign to make abortion illegal.
McCorvey's second book, Won by Love, was published in 1998. She explained her change on the stance of abortion with the following comments:
I was sitting in O.R.'s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. 'Norma', I said to myself, 'They're right'. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that's a baby! It's as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth—that's a baby!
I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn't about 'products of conception'. It wasn't about 'missed periods'. It was about children being killed in their mother's wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion—at any point—was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.
Later in life, McCorvey stated that she was no longer a lesbian. On August 17, 1998, she was received into the Roman Catholic church by Father Frank Pavone, the International Director of Priests for Life and Father Edward Robinson in Dallas.[dead link]
Social, political, and religious causesEdit
In 2004, McCorvey, hoping to restrict access to legal abortion services in the country, sought to have the Supreme Court of the United States overturn the ruling of Roe v. Wade, claiming that there was now evidence that the procedure harms women but the case was ultimately dismissed in 2005.
On January 22, 2008, McCorvey endorsed Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. McCorvey stated, "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 remained active in anti-abortion demonstrations, including one she participated in before President Barack Obama's commencement address to the graduates of the University of Notre Dame. McCorvey was arrested on the first day of U.S. Senate hearings for the confirmation of the presidential nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States of Sonia Sotomayor, after McCorvey and another protester began shouting during Senator Al Franken's opening statement.
Lake of Fire, a 2006 abortion-rights documentary by Tony Kaye on the abortion controversy in the United States, features McCorvey discussing her involvement in Roe v. Wade and her subsequent conversion to Catholicism.
McCorvey made her acting debut in Doonby, shot on location in 2010 in the small central Texas town of Smithville. Starring John Schneider, Jenn Gotzon and Robert Davi, the film was released in late 2011.
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