Norma McCorvey

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Norma McCorvey
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe), 1989 (cropped).jpg
McCorvey in 1989
Norma Leah Nelson

(1947-09-22)September 22, 1947
DiedFebruary 18, 2017(2017-02-18) (aged 69)
Other namesJane Roe
Known forPlaintiff in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973); anti-abortion activist
Elwood McCorvey
(m. 1963⁠–⁠1965)
Partner(s)Connie Gonzales (1970–1993)[1]

Norma Leah Nelson McCorvey (September 22, 1947 – February 18, 2017), also known by the pseudonym "Jane Roe", was the plaintiff in the landmark American legal case Roe v. Wade in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that individual state laws banning abortion were unconstitutional.[2]

Later, McCorvey became a Protestant Christian, and thereafter, a Roman Catholic, and took part in the anti-abortion movement.[3] McCorvey stated then that her involvement in Roe was "the biggest mistake of [her] life."[4] However, during an interview shortly before her death—in what McCorvey referred to as her "deathbed confession"—she said she had been paid to speak against abortion, and added that she continued to have abortion-rights beliefs.[5][6][7]

Early life[edit]

McCorvey was born in Simmesport, Louisiana.[8] She was raised at her family's residence in Lettsworth in Pointe Coupee Parish.[9] 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.[10][8] She and her older brother were raised by their mother, Mary, a violent alcoholic. McCorvey's father died on September 27, 1995.

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.[8][2] 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.[11] McCorvey was arrested and taken to court, where she was declared a ward of the state and sent to state-run institutions.[11]

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 said McCorvey was lying.[12]

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.[13][14] After Melissa's birth, McCorvey developed a severe drinking and drug problem.[8] 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 Norma 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. One day, she woke McCorvey up after a long day of work; she told McCorvey to sign what were presented as insurance papers, and she did so without reading them. However, the papers she had signed were adoption papers, giving her mother custody of Melissa, and McCorvey was then kicked out of the house.[15] The following year, McCorvey again became pregnant and gave birth to a baby, who was placed for adoption.[16]

Roe v. Wade[edit]

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 most abortion; sources differ over whether Texas law had such a rape exception.[17][18][19] Due to a lack of police evidence or documentation, the scheme was not successful, and McCorvey later said it was a fabrication.[20][21] She attempted to obtain an illegal abortion, but the recommended clinic had been closed down by authorities.[13] 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.[8]

Eventually, McCorvey was referred to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington,[22][23] who were looking for pregnant women who were seeking abortions. The case, Roe v. Wade (Henry Wade was the district attorney), took three years of trials to reach the Supreme Court of the United States, and McCorvey never attended a single trial. During the course of the lawsuit, McCorvey gave birth and placed the baby up for adoption.[2] McCorvey told the press that she was "Jane Roe" soon after the decision was reached, stating that she had sought an abortion because she was unemployable and greatly depressed.[8][24] In 1983, McCorvey told the press that she had been raped; in 1987, she said the rape claim was untrue.[8]

Anti-abortion activism[edit]

In 1994, McCorvey published her autobiography, I Am Roe. At a book signing, McCorvey was befriended by Flip Benham, an evangelical minister and the national director of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue.[25] She converted to Christianity and was 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 an abortion clinic and had become an advocate of Operation Rescue's campaign to make abortion illegal.[26] She voiced remorse for her part in the Supreme Court decision and said she had been a pawn for abortion activists.[11][27]

On August 17, 1998, McCorvey was received into the Catholic Church in a Mass celebrated by Father Edward Robinson and concelebrated by Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Dallas.[28] McCorvey's second book, Won by Love, described her religious conversion and was published in 1998. In the book, she said that her change of heart occurred in 1995, when she saw a fetal development poster in an Operation Rescue office.[29]

In 2004, McCorvey sought to have the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, saying that there was now evidence that the procedure harms women, but the case was ultimately dismissed in 2005.[30][31] On January 22, 2008, McCorvey endorsed Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul because of his anti-abortion position.[32]

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 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.[33] McCorvey appeared in the 2013 film Doonby, in which she delivers an anti-abortion message.[34][35]

The documentary AKA Jane Roe[edit]

On May 22, 2020, a documentary titled AKA Jane Roe aired on FX, describing McCorvey's life and the financial incentives to change her views on abortion.[36] In an interview conducted for the film shortly before her death, in what she referred to as her "deathbed confession", McCorvey said her anti-abortion activism had been "all an act", which she did because she was paid, stating that she did not care whether a woman got an abortion. "I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they'd put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That's what I’d say," McCorvey said. "If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that's no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice," she added.[5][6]

Robert Schenck, an evangelical pastor who worked with McCorvey, supported what was in the documentary. He acknowledged that his group had paid McCorvey to speak against abortion and stated: "Her name and photo would command some of the largest windfalls of dollars for my group and many others, but the money we gave her was modest. More than once, I tried to make up for it with an added check, but it was never fair."[37] According to tax documents, McCorvey received at least $450,000 from anti-abortion groups during her years as an activist.[38] Schenck said that he was surprised that McCorvey said that she was pro-abortion, although he said that he knew she "harboured doubts about the pro-life message she was telegraphing."[39]

Pavone, who had a decades long association with McCorvey, said that she was not on the payroll of his organization, Priests for Life, and said that he did not believe that McCorvey's activism was disingenuous. "I can even see her being emotionally cornered to get those words out of her mouth, but the things that I saw in 22 years with her—the thousands and thousands of conversations that we had—that was real," he said.[40] He later wrote, "So abortion supporters are claiming Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, wasn’t sincere in her conversion. She was. I was her spiritual guide for 22 years, received her into the Catholic Church, kept regular contact, spoke with her the day she died, and conducted her funeral."[41]

Abby Johnson, who worked for Planned Parenthood before joining the anti-abortion movement, said that McCorvey called her on the phone days before her death to express remorse for abortion. Johnson said that she believed McCorvey was a damaged woman who should not have been thrust into the spotlight so quickly after turning against abortion. "I don’t have any problem believing that in the last year of her life that she tried to convince herself abortion was OK. But I know at the end of her life, she did not believe that," she said.[38]

Relationship with Connie Gonzalez and death[edit]

Soon after giving birth a third time, as Roe v. Wade made its way through the courts, McCorvey met and began a long-term relationship with Connie Gonzalez.[8] They lived together in Dallas for 35 years. After converting to Christianity, McCorvey continued to live with Gonzalez, though she described their relationship as platonic. Later in life, McCorvey stated that she was no longer a lesbian,[42] although she later said that her religious conversion and renouncement of her sexuality were financially motivated.[43] McCorvey moved out of the house she shared with Gonzalez in 2006, shortly after Gonzalez suffered a stroke.[8]

Norma McCorvey died of heart failure in Katy, Texas, on February 18, 2017, at the age of 69.[14][16]


  • McCorvey, Norma & Meisler, Andy (1994). I Am Roe. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-017010-7.
  • McCorvey, Norma & Thomas, Gary (1997). Won by Love. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ISBN 0-7852-7237-2.


  1. ^ Duin, Julia (February 19, 1996). "Roe Finds God, Prays for Life". Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Witchel, Alex (July 28, 1994). "Norma McCorvey: Of Roe, Dreams and Choices". The New York Times.
  3. ^ McCorvey, Norma & Thomas, Gary (January 1998). "Roe v. McCorvey". Leadership U. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  4. ^ Barnett, Randy E. (2018). Constitutional law : cases in context. Blackman, Josh (Third ed.). New York. p. 1176. ISBN 9781454892885. OCLC 1007494529.
  5. ^ a b Blake, Meredith (May 19, 2020). "The woman behind 'Roe vs. Wade' didn't change her mind on abortion. She was paid". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Hesse, Monica (May 20, 2020). "'Jane Roe,' from Roe v. Wade, made a stunning deathbed confession. Now what?". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  7. ^ Goldberg, Michelle (May 22, 2020). "Jane Roe's Pro-Life Conversion Was a Con - Norma McCorvey makes a shocking deathbed confession". The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Prager, Joshua (February 2013). "The Accidental Activist". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on January 12, 2015. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  9. ^ McCorvey, Norma & Meisler, Andy (1994). I Am Roe. New York: Harper Collins. p. 11. ISBN 0-06-017010-7.
  10. ^ Pilkington, Ed (July 6, 2009). "These Steps Are Covered with Blood". The Guardian. London. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Carlson, Michael. "Norma McCorvey obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  12. ^ McCorvey & Meisler (1994), pp. 23–47. harvp error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFMcCorveyMeisler1994 (help)
  13. ^ a b Green, Michelle & Armstrong, Lois (May 22, 1989). "The Woman Behind Roe V. Wade". People. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  14. ^ a b McFadden, Robert D. (February 18, 2017). "Norma McCorvey, 'Roe' in Roe v. Wade, Is Dead at 69". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  15. ^ McCorvey & Meisler (1994). harvp error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFMcCorveyMeisler1994 (help)[page needed]
  16. ^ a b Langer, Emily (February 18, 2017). "Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade Decision Legalizing Abortion, dies at 69". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  17. ^ Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
  18. ^ Cawthon, Elisabeth (2004). Medicine on Trial: A Handbook with Cases, Laws, and Documents. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 13. ISBN 9781851095698. OCLC 55063372 – via Internet Archive.
  19. ^ Bailey, David C. (2008). "Abortion". In Kaid, Lynda Lee & Holtz-Bacha, Christina (eds.). Encyclopedia of Political Communication. Vol. 1. Los Angeles: SAGE. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9781412917995. OCLC 237199431. |volume= has extra text (help)
  20. ^ McCorvey, Norma & Thomas, Gary (1997). Won by Love. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. p. 241.
  21. ^ McCorvey, Norma (January 21, 1998). "Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Federalism and Property Rights" (PDF) – via Parliament of Western Australia.
  22. ^ "Roe v. Wade". Free Online Law Dictionary. 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2014.
  23. ^ McCorvey & Meisler (1994) harvp error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFMcCorveyMeisler1994 (help)[page needed]
  24. ^ "'Jane Roe' Started Abortion Battle". The Raving Theist. January 17, 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2014.
  25. ^ Maxwell, Joe; Maynard, Roy (August 26 – September 2, 1995). "Miss Norma & Her Baby: Two Victims Who Got Away". The Forerunner. 10 (15). Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  26. ^ McCorvey & Thomas (1997). harvp error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFMcCorveyThomas1997 (help)[page needed]
  27. ^ "Roe v Wade – Norma McCorvey".
  28. ^ "Norma McCorvey, plaintiff in Roe ruling who later became pro-life, dies". National Catholic Reporter. February 20, 2017. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  29. ^ McCorvey, Norma; Thomas, Gary (1998). Won by Love. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 978-1-4185-6179-6.
  30. ^ "Court rejects motion to overturn Roe v. Wade – Sep 14, 2004". Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  31. ^ "Norma McCorvey, 'Jane Roe' of Roe v. Wade, dies". WCPO. February 18, 2017. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  32. ^ "'Jane Roe' Endorses Paul". MSNBC. Archived from the original on September 26, 2012.
  33. ^ Kane, Paul (July 13, 2009). "'Jane Roe' Arrested at Supreme Court Hearing". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  34. ^ Bond, Paul (May 4, 2011). "Woman at Center of Roe v. Wade Stars in Abortion-Themed Movie (Exclusive)". Retrieved June 20, 2011.
  35. ^ Bond, Paul (May 5, 2011). "Do You Know Who This Woman Is?". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 26, 2012.
  36. ^ Lawler, Kelly (May 21, 2020). "Roe v Wade's Jane Roe says she was paid to speak against abortion in shocking FX documentary". USA Today. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
  37. ^ Serjeant, Jill (May 20, 2020). "Plaintiff in Roe v. Wade U.S. abortion case says she was paid to switch sides". Reuters. Archived from the original on May 21, 2020. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  38. ^ a b Graham, Ruth (May 22, 2020). "How the Anti-Abortion Movement Is Responding to Jane Roe's 'Deathbed Confession'". Slate Magazine. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  39. ^ "'We used her': Minister regrets paying Roe vs. Wade plaintiff to speak out against abortion". CBC Radio. May 20, 2020. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  40. ^ Flynn, J.D. (May 19, 2020). "The 'painful journey' of Jane Roe and the pro-life movement". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  41. ^ "Pro-lifers betrayed their cause by treating Norma McCorvey, 'Jane Roe,' as less than fully human". America Magazine. May 20, 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  42. ^ Hatch, Jenavieve (January 22, 2016). "The Fascinating Story Of The Woman At The Center Of Roe v. Wade". The Huffington Post.
  43. ^ Gray, Emma (May 5, 2020). "In Death, Jane Roe Finally Tells The Truth About Her Life". The Huffington Post.