Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the controversial Supreme Court ruling that progressives want to enshrine and conservatives want to overturn. Few rulings have been more consequential. According to Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute, 22% of all pregnancies now end in abortion, with 3 in 10 women terminating their pregnancy by the age of 45. There have been approximately 57 million legally induced abortions in the U.S. since 1973—nearly the current population of California and Texas combined.

Yet a recent Pew study found that 4 in 10 “Millennials” don’t even know that Roe v. Wade has to do with abortion. And even fewer today know the true story of the woman who started it all, the pseudonymous plaintiff “Jane Roe.” Here are five things you may not know about her, culled from interviews and profiles along with her sworn congressional testimony and memoirs.

(1) The name “Jane Roe” was created over beer and pizza.

In 1969 Norma was 21 years old, divorced, and pregnant for the third time. (The first two children were placed for adoption.) After seeking an abortion but finding out it was illegal, and then driving to an illegal clinic only to find it closed, adoption attorney Henry McCluskey referred her to two young lawyers in Dallas, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Weddington (who had traveled to Mexico a couple of years earlier to have an abortion) was seeking a class-action lawsuit against the state of Texas in order to legalize abortion. It was an unlikely party at the corner booth of Columbo’s pizza parlor in Dallas: two recent law-school grads in business suits sitting across the table from a rough and uneducated homeless woman. The lawyers needed a representative for all women seeking abortions—one who was young, poor, and white. They just didn’t want her to cross state lines to get a legal abortion, or the case would be considered moot and dismissed. Without money and five months pregnant, Norma was the ideal candidate. After downing several pitchers of beer, they agreed on using the pseudonym “Jane Roe.” (“Wade” referred to Henry B. Wade, the attorney general of Dallas.)

(2) Jane Roe didn’t know the meaning of “abortion.” 

Weddington and Coffee told Norma that abortion just dealt with a piece of tissue, and that it was like passing a period rather than the termination of a distinct, living, and whole human organism. Abortion was a taboo topic in 1970, and Norma had dropped out of school at the age of 14. She knew that John Wayne movies talked about “aborting the mission,” so she thought it meant to “go back”—as in, going back to not being pregnant. She honestly believed “abortion” meant a child was prevented from coming into existence.

(3) Jane Roe never appeared in court.

Her lawyers drafted a one-page legal affidavit, which she signed but did not read. (Even today, she has not read it.) This was only the second time she would meet with her lawyers—and it turned out to be the last. She would not be called to testify and attended none of the trial. She found out about the Supreme Court ruling from the newspaper on January 23, 1973, just like the rest of the nation. Few on that day understood the implications of Justice Blackmun’s instruction that Roe v. Wade was to be read in conjunction with its companion case Doe v. Bolton, which effectively made abortion legal at any stage of pregnancy for any reason. As a result, the United States (with Canada) became the only Western country offering no legal protection for the unborn at any stage of the pregnancy.

(4) Jane Roe never had an abortion.

Norma had already given birth and placed the baby for adoption before the three-judge Texas panel ruled against her in May of 1970, long before the Supreme Court decision in January of 1973. She was in a committed lesbian relationship and would not become pregnant again. Abortion continued to be a part of her life, however. She went on to work in abortion clinics, holding the hands of women and offering reassurance as they terminated their pregnancies, and making appearances on the Roe anniversaries.

(5) Jane Roe became pro-life.

In 1995, while working at the clinic, Norma became haunted by the sight and sound of empty playgrounds in her neighborhood. Once teeming with kids, they now seemed deserted. And she began to see it was the result of what she once called “my law.” But the decisive change happened when she met Emily Mackey, a seven-year-old girl whose parents were protesting at the clinic where “Miss Norma” worked. Emily, who had almost been aborted herself, befriended Norma, showing genuine interest and love, giving her hugs and inviting her to church. Through this young girl’s combination of truth and grace, along with those who shared the gospel of Jesus with her, Norma not only became convinced of the pro-life position but also converted to Christianity.

* * *

Norma McCorvey now says that “Jane Roe has been laid to rest.” Both sides in America’s most contentious debate have claimed her at one point, and both have had reason to be disappointed. But for evangelicals—the demographic most committed to overturning Roe—the case for protecting the smallest and most defenseless members of the human race does not rest with the testimony of a single individual. It does not even rest on biblical revelation; moral philosophers have pointed out that the differences between a fetus in utero and an infant outside the womb—size, location, degree of dependency, and level of development—are morally irrelevant when determining a person’s right to life.

On this fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, evangelicals would do well to remember that we must not only labor to protect the unborn, but to continue reaching out with assistance and love and the good news of grace to the Norma McCorveys of the world—broken women who feel they have no other place to turn.

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46 thoughts on “5 Things You Didn’t Know about “Jane Roe””

  1. Phil says:

    It does not even rest on biblical revelation; moral philosophers have pointed out that the differences between a fetus in utero and an infant outside the womb—size, location, degree of dependency, and level of development—are morally irrelevant when determining a person’s right to life.

    Citation needed.

    1. Bryan says:

      Its finally happened. Somebody asked for a citation of logic and reason. This is a dark day indeed.

  2. Seth says:

    Another point: Roe v. Wade does not technically need overturned, it can simply be thrown out! As the article mentioned, “Roe” was not pregnant at the time of the trial, nor did she receive an abortion. This makes the case a ruling on a hypothetical, non-existent situation, which should prohibit the courts from making any ruling on it whatsoever. All it would take would be a judge with enough courage to throw the case out and Roe v. Wade would disappear.

    1. Victor says:

      Lets be realistic as long as things take to get to the supreme court no woman would still be pregnant. Thus making a ruling under your logic impossible.

    2. Tommy Hunter says:

      That is not entirely true. The argument you are suggesting is that the case lacked standing, however courts have recognized that when an injury is capable of repetition to an individual plaintiff, they can decide the case. Otherwise, any issue involving a matter of a temporary nature (such as a 9 month pregnancy term) would never make it all the way to SCOTUS on appeal.

  3. Justin Taylor says:

    Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (Doubleday, 2008).

    Stephen D. Schwarz, The Moral Question of Abortion (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1990).

    Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion Choice (Oxford University Press, 2007).

    1. Phil says:

      Thank you.

      1. Ray Nearhood says:

        Also, pro-abortion medical ethicists have argued similarly to support partial birth abortion and – recently – killing newborns.

        The abstract of this article in a medical ethics journal (emphasis mine):
        Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

        Here, where the pro-life advocate would say, “there is no moral difference between a newborn and a yet to be born child. They are equally morally relevant persons” the pro-abortion advocate says, “there is no moral difference between a newborn and a yet to be born child. They are equally morally irrelevant non-persons.”

        1. Ray Nearhood says:

          my emphasis did not show up… I was highlighting point (1) and (2) in the abstract.

        2. Dave says:

          Good Lord…that article you link is simultaneously monstrous and utterly saddening. God forbid this thinking should grow more than it already has.

        3. Johnny says:

          @Ray – the key words in the citation you gave is “potential person” and “actual people.” The argument, while sounding similar to the pro-life argument, is actually vastly different. Pro lifers argue that the “fetus” is an actual human being, not a potential one. Reading the statement from the pro-abortion article you cited by changing the word “potential” to “actual” really brings some perspective as well.

          1. Ray Nearhood says:

            @ Johnny

            Yes, I tried to emphasis that by saying that the pro-abortion advocates call both the unborn and born child “morally irrelevant non-persons.”

    2. Johnney Chapman says:

      Justin, thank you for your frequent insightful blog posts. Can you share any other citations that you used to make this article? I like to read the footnotes… thank you for considering.

      jc
      <

  4. James Harold Thomas says:

    “They just didn’t want her to cross state lines to get a legal abortion, or the case would be considered moot and dismissed.”

    Do we know whether Norma would have gotten an abortion had it not been for the lawsuit? If she would have, then the child who was born and adopted is certainly the only life that was *saved* because of Roe v. Wade.

  5. anon says:

    On one hand, the stupid people of the world are killing off their own ‘race’. If all those liberals had kids and raised them as liberals, then our world would be in deeper trouble than it already is.
    On the other hand, God should be the only one to decide who lives and dies. (Of course, He already is…)
    But most importantly, regardless of anyone’s argument or points to be made etc., it comes down to this: Anyone who is having or thinking about having an abortion already knows they are killing a human being. They know it, and everyone else knows it. What comes after or during is just a stream of excuses, and ways to try to validate such a horrendous act of murder.

  6. Henry says:

    I didn’t realise Jimmy Carter was closely associated with Sarah Weddington.

  7. James Choi says:

    Here’s a video of her testimony: http://vimeo.com/49600976

  8. Daniel says:

    What is not said in the story is this case was built upon a lie. Perhaps to make the court more sympathetic to her case, Jane Doe’s attorneys claimed her pregnancy was due to rape. This turned out later not to be true.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I left that part out because it’s not clear to me how the gang-rape story emerged. We know that she was not raped. Some sources say that Norma later made the claim; others say that she told the rape story to her lawyers thinking it would make her a better candidate for abortion. If the latter happened, my understanding is that Weddington thought it was irrelevant since she wanted to appeal to all women, not the narrow exception of those who had been raped. If anyone can point to a definitive account on this, I’m all ears. Again, from what I can tell, there are conflicting accounts. But I don’t think it was claimed in court at any rate.

  9. Michelle says:

    Read her book, “Won By Live”. It tells everything.

  10. SLIMJIM says:

    What a sobering day on the blogosphere today

  11. L Reynolds says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

  12. Matt Jacobs says:

    At the age of 14, I pressured my girlfriend to have an abortion, and she did. I will never forget it, it never leaves my mind as a reminder of the depths of sins of which I am capable.

    Now, 28 years later, I am living proof that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I didn’t think I could be loved by, or saved by God – I had killed my own child. Yet, the Scriptures make it so beautifully clear – God sent His Son into the world to live and die for people just like me. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

    If anyone reading this post has ever been involved with an abortion, I want to proclaim to you as proudly and joyfully as humanly possible – Jesus Christ came into the world to save people EXACTLY like you. Take your guilt, take your sins, and lay them at the foot of the Cross. Repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. He loves you – you individually, you by name, you personally – and He came into the world to save you. He has promised to do so if you repent and trust in Him. He cannot lie, and He cannot fail. He came into the world to save sinners. What a sweet relief!

    Praise God that He promises He will be merciful toward our iniquities, and He will remember our sins no more! There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus!

    In Christ,
    Matt Jacobs

    1. Adam Seals says:

      Matt,

      Praise God for your repentance, your testimony, your transparency, and your exhortation. We indeed serve a gracious and forgiving and merciful God!

      adam

      1. Richard says:

        Amen to what Adam says. Thanks for sharing, Matt. God bless.

        1. Matt Jacobs says:

          Adam and Richard, thank you both very much. God is so good!

          Blessings to you both in Christ,
          Matt

  13. Justin says:

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together, brother. Very helpful for someone like me, born in the 80′s, and is a Christian.

  14. Patsy says:

    A very good and enlightening article. Wonderful news that Norma has found true forgiveness and peace.

  15. Chris B says:

    This is a great article and everyone should read it. However I would disagree with one vital point (at least vital to me). Norma did not convert to Christianity, she became roman catholic. Unfortunately, her conversion has been cited by RC’s as a means to attack the consistency and resolve of the Protestant churches against abortion. Peace and grace be with you.

  16. A great post. We cannot back down on this as Christians. It is the largest genocide ever known to man.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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