Many only know Norma McCorvey by a name that’s not hers.
Under the pseudonym Jane Roe, McCorvey became the central figure of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. But in the decades that followed, the complex woman came to serve as a champion at times for both sides of the deep divide over abortion rights.
McCorvey died Saturday of heart failure at the age of 69, according to her daughter Melissa, and Joshua Prager, a journalist who is writing a book about the court case, says McCorvey died in Katy, Texas.
How McCorvey became Roe
It was her third pregnancy — after Melissa, her eldest, and another child McCorvey gave up for adoption — that brought McCorvey to the attention of the lawyers who would eventually take up her case. The 22-year-old McCorvey, who was then unmarried, had been seeking an abortion but could not find a doctor in Texas who would perform the procedure, which was then illegal except when the life of the mother was endangered.
Attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee took up McCorvey’s case, and in 1970, they filed the lawsuit that — after several twists and turns — would ultimately wind up at the Supreme Court. By the time the ruling was finally passed down in 1973, however, McCorvey had already carried her pregnancy to term, and had given the child up for adoption.
Though Roe v. Wade may not have changed McCorvey’s particular circumstances, the landmark Supreme Court ruling had a massive effect on the cultural and political landscape of the United States. The 7-2 decision, which invalidated state bans on abortion in the U.S., may not have started the long-simmering dispute over the procedure, but it came to be its central flashpoint in the decades that followed.