Most of us know of the landmark case which legalized abortion in the United States. What happened to Jane Roe?
Her complicated life is what this article will show you.
What Was Jane Roe’s Real Name?
Jane Roe’s real name was Norma Leah Nelson McCorvey (1947-2017), the plaintiff in the landmark 1973 American legal case, Roe v. Wade. Individual state laws banning abortion were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court .
How did Jane Roe become part of Roe? Wade?
In this article we’ll refer to Norma McCorvey under her pseudonym Jane Roe. In 1969, Jane Roe was a divorced 22-year-old pregnant with her third child. Although she wanted to terminate the pregnancy, Texas law prohibited abortions unless the life of the mother was at risk. Jane brought a suit against Henry Wade (Dallas County District Attorney), challenging Texas’ abortion laws. One of the two common pseudonyms she used was Jane Doe. John Doe is the most popular pseudonym for men. Jane Doe and Roe are more common choices for women. “Poe,” a surname that is used anonymously by plaintiff parties, is often preferred by both genders.
Dallas lawyer Henry McCluskey recommended Jane to feminist lawyers Linda Coffee (the daughter of an minister) who wanted to contest the restrictions on abortion access. The case was presented as a class action lawsuit and the federal panel of three judges ruled in favor of them. Texas appealed and the case went to the Supreme Court. Sarah Weddington argued the case twice, winning it.
The ruling in Jane Roe’s favor handed down in 1973 stated that “during the first trimester of pregnancy, the mother had the right to an abortion ‘free of interference by the state.'” The ruling came long after Jane Roe had given birth and had surrendered the child for adoption. It was interesting that the lawyer who referred Roe, Coffee to Weddington and Coffee knew nothing about Jane Roe’s identity at the time. He was also the one who managed the adoption.
What Happened to Jane Roe after Roe v. Wade?
Norma McCorvey revealed herself as Jane Roe shortly after the Supreme Court decision when she talked to the Baptist Press. The next day, an Associated Press article was published with the headline, “Abortion Reformer Sheds ‘Jane Roe.'” Jane kept a low profile, and it wasn’t until 1980, when she read a newspaper story that questioned whether Jane Roe existed at all, that she consented to an interview with a Dallas newspaper and then Good Housekeeping magazine. At one point, she said, “she’d sought to have an abortion because she was unemployed and depressed.” Later in life, she referred to the ruling as “my law.”
Facts are somewhat sketchy, but from what is reported in various articles, books, live interviews, documentaries, T.V. movies, and Jane Roe’s two memoirs, I Am Roe (1994) and Won by Love (1998), certain truths can be gleaned. Jane met Connie Gonzalez shortly after filing her lawsuit. Jane had been in liaison with men and women for some time. They lived together as a lesbian couple until Gonzalez had a stroke in 2004 (Jane claims in Won by Love that their relationship was platonic after 1992). Gonzalez reportedly later reflected on Jane, “She’s a phony.”
Much of the following information is culled from an article in The Atlantic by Joshua Prager.
It was almost a decade before Jane Roe joined pro-choice activists, and became a partner with Gloria Allred (feminist lawyer). Allred helped Roe gain more exposure at media events. Roe then declared that she wanted to have her third child, the “Roe baby”. This was almost a decade ago. Roe also teamed up with Gloria Allred, a feminist lawyer. The National Enquirer offered their help, and they hired Toby Hanft, an advocate for connecting older women with the children they’d renounced. Hanft was able to locate Roe’s daughter Shelley through a lengthy paperwork trail.
Hanft revealed Jane’s mother’s true name to Jane and made reference to Roe’s fame for helping change the law. Shelley, speaking on behalf of her family, said that Hanft brought up the topic of abortion. Hanft then told Shelley that Jane Roe was her mother. Shelley said, “This person had made it okay for people to go out and be promiscuous.” Shelley said, “This person had made it okay for people to go out and be promiscuous.”
Jane and her daughter met via a phone call, and Jane told Shelley that she gave Shelly up because “I knew I couldn’t take care of you.” Jane mentioned the hope of meeting in person, but that would never happen. In 2013, however, Roe’s children met at the oldest daughter’s house in Katy, Texas.
In June 1989, The National Enquirer posted a story about the discovery of the “Roe baby.” Even though they did not divulge her name, they revealed her as a pro-life woman living in Washington state. In the article, she was quoted as saying that she may never forgive her mother for wanting to have her child.
Later Jane asked Shelley whether she could come to visit with Connie. Shelley was then married and had a 3-year-old boy. She was shocked at her mother’s willingness to kiss another woman in front her child. They argued and ended the conversation. Jane died In 2017, never having met “baby Roe.”
Jane began attending church in 1995, after meeting Flip Benham (pro-life leader of Operation Rescue). In 1998, after being influenced by Priests for Christ leader Frank Pavone, Jane Roe became a Roman Catholic. Jane Roe changed her mind and advocated against abortion. It has been reported Jane Roe recanted her pro-life stance, saying she was paid to defend it, but that interview appeared three years after Jane Roe died, in the documentary AKA Jane Roe. It is possible that Jane Roe was forced to retract or that the quote was faked.
Five Important Quotes by Jane Roe
1. I thought about Jane Roe and myself. She was an integral part of my life and I knew I couldn’t get rid of her. We would need to reach an agreement. And do things together.”–Quoted in From I Am Roe
2. In March 1995, Jane received a distressing call from a friend at the abortion clinic where Jane worked. Jane was informed by a friend about new neighbors. “Norma McCorvey (also known as Jane Roe in the infamous Roe v. Wade abortion verdict) was a neighbor to Operation Rescue. It’s like the Hatfields moving next door to me. It would have been like my bitterest enemies and me sharing a wall. I could feel a headache coming on.”–Quoted in Won by Love (Later that same year, Roe became friends with Operation Rescue’s head, Flip Benham. Soon after, she became an anti-abortion activist.)
3. Flip [Benham], I wanted to imagine as the man that I saw on television as he lay his body before an abortion clinic in Wichita. It seemed unbelievable to me. It was hard to believe that people would give up their four- to six week lives in order to go to Wichita knowing they’d be arrested. It was a shame that I had to give up so much of my time in order to advocate for legal abortion. But these folks were ready to travel to Wichita to end it. I never met a pro-choice group with that kind of commitment.”–Quoted in Won by Love
4. She met Operation Rescue people after she made friends. “I was in desperate need of something to wear to church so I went to the mall. I looked up at the sky, nervously, as I walked in. I thought that Jane Roe, Norma McCorvey and Jane Roe, purchasing clothes for her to look good in church would set off a firestorm. The word church sounded too threatening. I felt like a woman driven to her death by fidgeting throughout the (albeit short) journey to Hillcrest church. As we parked the car, I looked up at Hillcrest church and wondered what in the world I was doing there.”–Quoted in Won by Love
5. After her alleged conversion, Norma McCorvey stated that she would be helping the Lord and women to save their children. I will continue to be pro-life for my entire life. It’s something I have always believed in. I just didn’t know it.”
What Do We Make of Jane Roe?
What we do is more important than what it’s for ourselves. Our actions have a profound impact on the lives and health of many others, for good or ill. There is so much controversy surrounding Jane Roe (aka Norma McCorvey’s life and actions). Facts can easily be distorted or exaggerated for sensationalist reasons. Even in the lives of people like Norma McCorvey we can trust God to work out all circumstances for our benefit.
Photo Credit: (c)Getty Images/Travis Lindquist/Staff
Lisa Loraine Baker is the award-winning author of Someplace to Be Somebody (End Game Press, February 2022). Lisa is currently writing fiction and nonfiction. She also co-wrote a Christian Living book and suspense novel.
Lisa is a member of Word Weavers, Int’l (as a critique partner and mentor), AWSA, ACFW, Serious Writer Group, and BRRC.
Lisa and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis.