Seeing Norma: The Conflicted Life of the Woman at the Center of Roe v. Wade

Seeing Norma: The Conflicted Life of the Woman at the Center of Roe v. Wade

Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe at the center of Roe v. Wade, was an incomplete plaintiff.

When she started crying as a young single woman in Dallas, she had no idea about the fight for reproductive rights. She barely passed as a waitress, gave birth to twins twice, and only wanted an abortion. She later lied about how she became pregnant, saying she had been abused. When, more than a decade later, she came clean and expressed a desire to join the movement she had come to represent, its leaders refused to take a meaningful part in their protests and rallies.

“I think they’re embarrassed,” McCorvey told the Texas Monthly in 1993. “They want me to be educated in college, calm and with little white gloves.”

Still, it was central to Roe McCorvey’s life, connected to the two cross-currents that would give rise to the abortion debate in the United States – religion and gender.

He said McCorvey had hundreds of partners, almost all of whom were women. She also worked as a prostitute in Dallas for a while. But her upbringing was a witness of Jehovah and she saw sex as a sin. That her plaintiff had legalized abortion, she feared for her life. That was partly because she was reborn in 1995, she said.

Yet, despite its public reversal, McCorvey – like The majority of Americans Now – it was felt that abortion should be legal by the first trimester. He shared it in the first interview he ever gave, a few days after crying, and he shared it again in his last while talking to me from a hospital bed at the end of his life. (During my decade of research “The Family Ro“A book on Roe and his plaintiff, I spent hundreds of hours interviewing McCorvey.”

Her private papers – which I searched in her ex-partner’s garage before the house was lost in a forklift – offer her own insights about McCorvey as she really was: a woman who Torture and ambiguity about abortion are a reflection of the country’s divisions, and which remain relevant in the new, post-Roe world.

Here is a sample of the content.

McCorvey was sent to a Catholic boarding school, and later, at the age of 16, to a government boarding school for “guilty girls.” He enjoyed being away from his family, and he had a girlfriend race. But her mother, Mary Sandyfer, beat her for being gay, Sandyfer said in an interview, and McCorvey viewed sex and her sexuality as sinful and illegitimate. Many years after becoming pregnant for the third time, and attempting to have an abortion, she told people that she had been abused. She presented herself as a victim, not a sinner.

According to documents and interviews with family members, McCormack was the third generation in a row to become pregnant after marriage. Her grandmother got married quickly, while her mother was forced to leave the city, give birth in secret and hand over her child to her parents.

McCorvey did many jobs to get – waitress and drug dealer, prostitute and painter, respirator and bond runner. Money was a constant struggle. And when, in 1969, she became pregnant and found an unlicensed doctor who would perform an abortion, she could not afford the $ 500 fee or the cost of going to California, where abortion was legal.

Over time, McCorvey turned his claim into a career, and, depending on his audience, repeatedly changed his public position. But her personal views on abortion did not change: one day after her Christian rebirth, and at the end of her life, she repeated what she first told The Baptist Press in 1973. Was: that abortion should be legal by the first trimester. .

Leaders of the abortion rights movement were comfortably ill when, in 1987, McCormack confessed to lying about being raped. But after her apology, and years of devoting herself to crying and educating herself about abortion, she gave up – in the words of Barbara Ellis, a activist with the movement. ” Cursed, rejected, teased, defamed and expelled. “

In April 1970, two attorneys representing Linda Coffey and Sarah Weddington, McCorvey, amended Rowe v. Wade to make it not only her class action suit, she wrote, but also “all other women.” Including those located in the same way. ” He described the situation in an affidavit, and, among other things, claimed that his pseudonym could not afford to travel where abortion was legal and safe.

McCorvey found solace in religion, especially in the patron saints and provisions that became part of his daily life after he converted to Catholicism in 1998. He has left. Worryingly, she said, she was learning in 1992 that her lawyer, Weddington, who had not tried to help McCorvey get an abortion, had fallen victim to it himself. ۔

That was a complete lie. McCorvey first spoke of being raped in a Good Housekeeping article in June 1973, five months after Rowe’s decision. Her lawyer, Coffey, said in an interview that the article was the first time she and her fellow lawyer had learned of McCurry’s rape allegations.


Joshua Pragar Is the author ofFamily Ro: An American StoryRoe vs. Wade and the dual biography of his plaintiff. The book was a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

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