How Norma McCorvey Changed America Forever

Meet the Woman Behind Roe v. Wade

Abortion remains a touchy subject in America, with adamantly opposed groups on both sides of the aisle. But society has been arguing over the same issue for decades. Up until 1973, the states were free to decide whether or not abortion should be legal. Things took a turn when a woman named Norma McCorvey sued the Dallas County District Attorney, Henry Wade, for her right to have an abortion. This historic case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the country’s abortion laws were forever changed. Norma McCorvey recently passed away on February 18th, 2017 at the age of 69. Learn the surprising, often polarizing story of this courageous woman.

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A Raucous Upbringing

Fate seems to have a habit of choosing unlikely candidates for groundbreaking achievements. Norma McCorvey is no exception. Raised in Louisiana and Texas, McCorvey spent most of her childhood living with her alcoholic mother. As a young girl, McCorvey liked to live on the wild side. She robbed a cash register with her friend when she was just 10 years old and subsequently hid in a hotel room for two days before she was arrested. Always in and out of trouble, McCorvey suffered a slew of challenges growing up. Her combative relationship with her mother always drove her out of the house. Her mother’s cousin allegedly raped McCorvey for weeks at a time while she was still a teenager.

Pregnant Times Three

After a tragic childhood, McCorvey had a complicated relationship with motherhood. She first became pregnant when she was 16. She accidently gave the child away to her mother after signing some legal papers in the middle of the night. Forced out of her mother’s house, accidentally became pregnant again when she was just 19. This time, McCorvey decided to put the child up for adoption, unable to serve as a proper caregiver.

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Two years later, McCorvey experienced her third pregnancy and was eager to have an abortion. Living in Dallas, she claimed she was raped in order to have an abortion legally. At the time, abortion was outlawed in Texas except under rare circumstances. McCorvey later revealed that she lied about being raped in order to have the procedure without breaking the law. With nowhere else to turn, McCorvey finally heard about a legal team recruiting pregnant women in the state who were looking to have an abortion.

Changing the Law of the Land

Norma McCorvey soon found herself in the company of two attorneys, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington. Both lawyers were determined to strike down what they saw as the state’s overly harsh abortion restrictions. It’s unclear how much of a role McCorvey played in the case, if she had one at all, but she was willing to gain access to an abortion by any means necessary. McCorvey never attended a single trial and eventually gave the press the name of “Jane Roe” as a pseudonym. In McCorvey’s absence, Weddington and Coffee cited that McCorvey was unemployed and suffering from depression at the time of the pregnancy and was therefore unfit to be a mother. After a victory in the Texas District Court, three years of waiting, and an appeal from the defense, the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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A man named Jay Floyd headed the defense. If there was ever a chance of the court siding with the state of Texas, it was quickly squashed when Floyd made perhaps the most notorious legal blunder in history. He stated, “It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.” The court went silent and Floyd’s reputation went out the window, along with the defense’s argument. The case was eventually reargued with a new defense lawyer, but the damage had already been done. With a 7-to-2 majority, Roe was deemed the winner, affirming that a state’s ban on abortion was unconstitutional.

Too Little Too Late

McCorvey eventually gave birth to the child long before the outcome of the case. She gave the child up for adoption and kept her distance from the ongoing trial. McCorvey had a change of heart later on in life and became a staunch supporter of the pro-life movement. She even came out in the 1980s against Weddington and Coffee, claiming that they had manipulated her into suing the state of Texas. Regardless of how McCorvey felt during and after the trail, Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land.

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