Not Exactly a Roe Model

What we can learn from the life and death of Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade
What we can learn from the life and death of Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade

The Life and Death of Roe v. Wade Class Action Plaintiff Norma McCorvey

Obituaries of the recently deceased Norma McCorvey, perhaps best known as the class action plaintiff pseudonymously named Jane Roe in the Supreme Court decision legalizing the right to abortion, chronicled, as had been done before, a bit of her troubled life. She’d had two kids and was pregnant again at the age of 22, and single, and in Texas, at the time she was seeking an abortion and initiating what would become the Roe case (although ultimately she delivered the baby), stood firmly for a while as an abortion rights advocate, and then had a religious conversion, and then another. Along the way, she changed her mind about abortion rights and purportedly had misgivings about how many abortions had been performed since the landmark Supreme Court decision was issued.

She may or may not have been informed of the implications of her status as a class action plaintiff should she prevail in her litigation. She may or may not have had a reliable memory of what transpired so many years ago.

Of course, all of us lead messy lives in some way or another and many, if not most, of us would not be particularly inclined to have them shared with the universe as part of media coverage of any particular litigation. McCorvey’s life, and her death at age 69, and her behavior from start to finish remind the rest of us that each of us is equal before the law whether we are leading troubled lives or privileged ones.

We can also be reminded that the people who prevail in lawsuits are not necessarily heroes as much as we would prefer that they be. They often are people who have done some pretty despicable things but who, nevertheless, had the rights to which they are entitled trampled on in some way.

For lawyers, McCorvey might serve as a reminder to have a series of conversations with clients, not just an initial one when they are in pain and seeking a solution, but several where those troubled clients are reminded of the implications of a lawsuit’s outcome, win or lose, especially the broader implications for others.

I am sure many of us would like to have had the person in the position of a Jane Roe to have been a trailblazer for women’s reproductive freedom, committed to the cause of women’s equality and perpetually pursuing it. What we got was a real person, flaws and all—and one who still was protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Jane Roe was represented by lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington.

—Lori Tripoli

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