Norma McCorvey, whose legal challenge under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision that legalized abortion but who later became an outspoken opponent of the procedure, died Saturday. She was 69.
McCorvey died at an assisted living center in Katy, Texas, said journalist Joshua Prager, who is working on a book about McCorvey and was with her and her family when she died. He said she died of heart failure and had been ill for some time.
Norma McCorvey was 22, unmarried, unemployed and pregnant for the third time in 1969 when she sought to have an abortion in Texas, where the procedure was illegal except to save a woman’s life. The subsequent lawsuit, known as Roe v. Wade, led to the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established abortion rights, though by that time, McCorvey had given birth and given her daughter up for adoption.
Decades later, Norma McCorvey underwent a conversion, becoming an evangelical Christian and joining the anti-abortion movement. A short time later, she underwent another religious conversion and became a Roman Catholic.
“I don’t believe in abortion even in an extreme situation. If the woman is impregnated by a rapist, it’s still a child. You’re not to act as your own God,” she told The Associated Press in 1998.
After the court’s ruling, Norma McCorvey lived quietly for several years before revealing herself as Jane Roe in the 1980s. She also confessed to lying when she said the pregnancy was the result of rape.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, she remained an ardent supporter of abortion rights and worked for a time at a Dallas women’s clinic where abortions were performed. Her 1994 autobiography, “I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice,” included abortion-rights sentiments along with details about dysfunctional parents, reform school, petty crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, an abusive husband, an attempted suicide and lesbianism.
But a year later, she was baptized before network TV cameras by a most improbable mentor: The Rev. Philip “Flip” Benham, leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America. Norma McCorvey joined the cause and staff of Benham, who had befriended her when the anti-abortion group moved next door to the clinic where she was working.
Norma McCorvey also said her religious conversion led her to give up her lover, Connie Gonzales. She said the relationship turned platonic in the early 1990s and that once she became a Christian she believed homosexuality was wrong.
She recounted her evangelical conversion and stand against abortion in the January 1998 book “Won by Love,” which ends with McCorvey happily involved with Operation Rescue.
But by August of that year, she had changed faiths to Catholicism and had left Operation Rescue. Though she was still against abortion, she said she had reservations about the group’s confrontational style.
Norma McCorvey formed her own group, Roe No More Ministry, in 1997 and traveled around the U.S. speaking out against abortion. In 2005, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by McCorvey to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.