A few days ago, Abby Johnson on her Facebook page called for prayers for Norma McCorvey, who was very ill. I am now hearing that McCorvey has died at age 69, having lived for 44 years in the shadow of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that bore her pseudonym.
McCorvey went public, affirming her real identity and refusing to embrace being “Jane Roe.” Eventually, in the midst of a tumultuous life, she repudiated the Court decision and became pro-life.
On a visit to Texas last year, I went to Mass at a small chapel in downtown Dallas. The pastor turned out to be the man who had ministered to McCorvey when she professed the Catholic faith. Rather than talk about her, he demurred: “Leave her alone. She’s been too much used.”
Too much used. The attorneys who represented her in Roe can take some credit for that. For the briefest of overviews about McCorvey and the court case that thrust her into American history, read Live Action’s post from earlier this year, 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade.
I think of her as one of the voices to trust whenever I hear an abortion advocate say “trust women.”
“I realized that my case, which legalized abortion on demand, was the biggest mistake of my life….but now I’m dedicated to spreading the truth about preserving the dignity of all human life from natural conception to natural death.”
“[I]t doesn’t make any difference what religion you are, or how young you are or how old you are, I think if they get up and go to these abortion mills, and stand there – and they don’t have to do anything, they can just stand there and pray, I think that would make a lot of difference. We have to be seen in numbers.”
Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano rejected the Supreme Court decisions that were supposedly made in their favor. Their identities obscured in the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, they ultimately went public with their dissent from those decisions, reclaiming their own names and proclaiming their support of the right to life.
McCorvey was “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in a challenge to Texas abortion law that culminated in Roe v. Wade, overturning most abortion restrictions and regulations nationwide. Cano was the anonymous plaintiff in Doe v. Bolton, an abortion case decided the same day as Roe, which resulted in an expansive definition of “health of the mother” as justification for abortion on demand. Ironically, neither woman had an abortion pursuant to the decisions.
McCorvey supported the Roe decision for about twenty years before renouncing it and becoming pro-life. In a one-minute 2010 video, she summarized her position. “I realized that my case, which legalized abortion on demand, was the biggest mistake of my life….but now I’m dedicated to spreading the truth about preserving the dignity of all human life from natural conception to natural death.”
Asked in a 1997 interview what she thought people could do to stop abortion, McCorvey said, “[I]t doesn’t make any difference what religion you are, or how young you are or how old you are, I think if they get up and go to these abortion mills, and stand there – and they don’t have to do anything, they can just stand there and pray, I think that would make a lot of difference. We have to be seen in numbers.”
Sandra Cano came to be the Supreme Court’s “Doe” after she went to an attorney for help with matters relating to divorce and child custody. As she told a Congressional committee in 2005,
“I was very vulnerable: poor and pregnant with my fourth child, but abortion never crossed my mind. Although it apparently was utmost in the mind of the attorney from whom I sought help….Please understand even though I have lived what many would consider an unstable life and overcome many devastating circumstances, at no time did I ever have an abortion. l did not seek an abortion nor do I believe in abortion. Yet my name and life is now forever linked with the slaughter of 40-50 million babies. “…I feel like my name, life, and identity have been stolen and put on this case without my knowledge and against my wishes….One of the Justices of the Supreme Court said during oral argument in my case ‘What does it matter if she is real or not.’ Well, I am real and it does matter.”
Cano died in 2014, with Doe v. Bolton still standing. To the end of her life, she told her story far and wide. She knew that the truth and her experience were too important to hide.
McCorvey has noted how as with Doe, disregard for truth played an important part in the Roe decision. “I was persuaded by feminist attorneys to lie; to say that I was raped, and needed an abortion. It was all a lie. Since then, over 50 million babies have been murdered. I will take this burden to my grave. Please, don’t follow in my mistakes.”