Norma McCorvey

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"Jane Roe" redirects here. For the more generic use of "Jane Roe" for an anonymous or unknown person, see John Doe.
Norma McCorvey
Born Norma Leah Nelson
(1947-09-22) September 22, 1947 (age 69)
Simmesport, Louisiana, U.S.
Nationality American
Other names Jane Roe
Occupation Director, Crossing Over Ministry
formerly Roe No More Ministry, Inc.
Known for Roe v. Wade
Spouse(s) Elwood "Woody" McCorvey
(m. 1963–65)
Partner(s) Connie Gonzales
Children 3
Parent(s) Mary Sandefur Nelson (mother)
Olin Nelson (father)

Norma Leah McCorvey (née Nelson; born September 22, 1947), better known by the legal pseudonym "Jane Roe", was the plaintiff in the landmark American lawsuit Roe v. Wade in 1973.[2] The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual state laws banning abortion are unconstitutional. Later, McCorvey's views on abortion changed substantially; she is now a Roman Catholic active in the pro-life movement.[3]

Personal life[edit]

McCorvey was born in either Lettsworth[4] or Simmesport, Louisiana[5] and raised in Houston, Texas. McCorvey's father left the family when she was 13 years old[6] and her parents subsequently divorced. She and her older brother were raised by their mother Mildred, a violent alcoholic. McCorvey's father died on September 27, 1995. She is of partial Cajun and Cherokee ancestry.[2]

McCorvey had entered a Catholic boarding school[7] 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 taken by the police and eventually to court, where she was declared a ward of the state and sent to Mount St. Michaels in Dallas.

McCorvey was later sent to the State School for Girls in Gainesville, Florida on and off from ages 11–15. 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.[8]

While working at a restaurant, Norma met Woody McCorvey (born 1940), and she married him at the age of 16. She later left him after he abused her. She moved in with her mother and gave birth to her first child, Melissa, in 1965.[9] After Melissa's birth, McCorvey developed a serious drinking problem. Soon after, she came out and 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 let McCorvey move back in, and one day woke Norma up after a long day of work. She told her to sign insurance papers, and Norma did so without reading. However, she actually signed adoption papers, giving her mother custody of Melissa, and was then kicked out of the house.[10] The following year, McCorvey again became pregnant and gave birth to a baby, who was placed for adoption.

Roe v. Wade[edit]

Main article: Roe v. Wade

In 1969, at the age of 21, McCorvey became pregnant a third time. She returned to Dallas. According to McCorvey, friends advised her that she should assert falsely that she had been raped 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 rape exception.[11][12][13][14] Due to lack of police evidence or documentation, the scheme was not successful and McCorvey would later admit the situation was a fabrication.[15][16] She attempted to obtain an illegal abortion, but the respective clinics had been closed down by authorities.

Eventually, McCorvey was referred to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington,[17][18] who were looking for pregnant women who were seeking an abortion. The case took three years of trials to reach the United States Supreme Court, and Norma never attended even one trial. In the meantime, she had given birth to the baby in question, who was eventually adopted.[2]

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.[7][19] In the 1980s, McCorvey asserted 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.[20]

Books and conversion[edit]

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."[2] That same year, she became a Christian and voiced remorse for her part in the Supreme Court decision. McCorvey has 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[21] 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.[22]

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.[3]

Shortly thereafter, McCorvey released a statement that affirmed her entrance into the Roman Catholic Church, and she has been confirmed into the church as a full member.[23][24]

McCorvey has also stated that she is no longer a lesbian.[25] 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.[24]

Social and political causes[edit]

In February 2005, McCorvey petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 decision with McCorvey v. Hill, arguing that she had standing to do so as one of the original litigants and that the case should be heard once again in light of what she claimed was evidence that the procedure harms women, but the petition was denied because the Supreme Court considered the matter to be moot.

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."[26]

McCorvey is still active in pro-life demonstrations including one she participated in before President Barack Obama's commencement address to the graduates of the University of Notre Dame (the decision to invite the President to speak at the university on May 17, 2009 was controversial because his views on abortion conflicted with the teachings of the Catholic Church, with which the University is affiliated). 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 (he was a Democrat representing Minnesota).[27]

Lake of Fire, a 2006 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 Roman 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 previewed at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was released in the fall of 2011.[28]



  1. ^ Duin, Julia (February 19, 1996). "Roe finds god, prays for life". Retrieved March 31, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Norma McCorvey; Of Roe, Dreams And Choices" By Alex Witchel in The New York Times (July 28, 1994)
  3. ^ a b Roe v. McCorvey
  4. ^ McCorvey, Norma (1994). I Am Roe. Harper Collins. p. 11. ISBN 0-06-017010-7. Retrieved Apr 2, 2014. 
  5. ^ Prager, Joshua (February 2013). "The Accidental Activist". Vanity Fair. Retrieved Apr 2, 2014. 
  6. ^ 'These steps are covered with blood', The Guardian, 6 July 2009.
  7. ^ a b "The Accidental Activist", Vanity Fair. February 2013.
  8. ^ McCorvey, Norma (1994). I Am Roe. Harper Collins. pp. 23–47. ISBN 0-06-017010-7. 
  9. ^ "The Woman Behind Roe V. Wade". People. May 22, 1989.
  10. ^ McCorvey, Norma (1994). I Am Roe. Haper Collins. ISBN 0-06-017010-7. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Cawthon: Medicine on Trial, p. 139
  14. ^ Encyclopedia of Political Communication Vol. 1: Abortion
  15. ^ McCorvey, Norma. Won by Love (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), p. 241.
  16. ^ McCorvey, Norma. Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Federalism and Property Rights (1998-01-21), quoted in the parliament of Western Australia (PDF) (1998-05-20).
  17. ^ "Roe v. Wade". Free Online Law Dictionary. 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2014. 
  18. ^ McCorvey, Norma and Meisler, Andy. I Am Roe: My Life, Roe V. Wade, and Freedom of Choice (Harpercollins, May, 1994) (Copyright © 2009 Farlex, Inc.) Retrieved (2009-08-20).
  19. ^ "'Jane Roe' started abortion battle". The Raving Theist. January 17, 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2014. 
  20. ^ - Who is 'Jane Roe'?, Jun. 18, 2003
  21. ^ Miss Norma & Her Baby: Two Victims Who Got Away
  22. ^ McCorvey, Norma (1997). Won by Love. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 0-7852-7237-2. 
  23. ^ Priests for Life: Norma McCorvey's Ministry and Website
  24. ^ a b Pavone, Frank (2013). "The Conversion of Norma McCorvey". Priests for Life. Retrieved June 23, 2014. 
  25. ^ Duin, Julia (January 21, 1996), "Jane Roe's 'turn to God' complete", The Washington Times 
  26. ^ 'Jane Roe' endorses Paul -
  27. ^ "'Jane Roe' Arrested at Supreme Court Hearing", Washington Post, July 13, 2009
  28. ^ Bond, Paul (May 4, 2011). "Woman at Center of Roe v. Wade Stars in Abortion-Themed Movie (Exclusive)". Retrieved June 20, 2011. 

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