Her name was Norma McCorvey but the world knew her by her pseudonym, Jane Roe. Her life was tragic from beginning to end and would have been one more story of frustration and failure had she not become the visible face in a fight that required a name: the fight for the right to abortion in the United States. McCorvey is Roe in the symbolic case Roe vs. Wade, which gave women in the U.S. the legal right to abortion in January 1973.
This week, buried under the new coronavirus panic and Super Tuesday elections, the news quietly slipped past of something that many fear will be the beginning of the end of legal abortion in the U.S. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court began reviewing a Louisiana law that could result in the demise of that acquired right. The initiative could expand to the rest of the country and it will allow President Donald Trump to reclaim the anti-abortion issue in his reelection bid in November, in the same way that he used the issue as an electoral promise to win the 2016 election. In other words, it could end the Roe vs. Wade ruling, without necessarily carrying that title.
At 22 years of age, McCorvey became pregnant for the third time by a third man whom she did not love, nor had she loved the other two men, because she was a gay woman who still had not been publicly recognized as such. Her mother adopted her first child. McCorvey also gave up her second child for adoption and the third pregnancy came as a surprise as her life fell apart due to drug addiction, poverty and depression. In the middle of 1970, five months pregnant, she visited the office of two young, ambitious lawyers who were thirsty for a case like this to challenge the law prohibiting abortion in Texas. The case, with its high national impact, after many appeals in state courts, arrived at the Supreme Court in Washington.
The plaintiff would be “Jane Roe” and the Dallas prosecutor, Henry Wade, would represent the state. Three years later, the highest court ruled in favor of the right of women to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy; this applied to the entire country. Since then, it is estimated that more than 55 million women have had legal abortions. The law did not benefit McCorvey, who gave birth to her third child and placed it for adoption. Her life continued to be engulfed in chaos and desperation.
The rule being debated in the Supreme Court would require abortion clinics to be located within 30 miles of a hospital; also its doctors must be accredited in the same location in case there is a need for an emergency referral. However, this accreditation is almost impossible to achieve. Since less than 0.33% of abortions within the first trimester experience complications, it is not financially practical for either hospitals or doctors to assume the costs necessary to comply with this standard. This means that clinics that offer legal abortions would have to close.
Beyond McCorvey and her sad history, the legal verdict that carries her pseudonym is a victory that women in that country should not relinquish. What happened this week in Washington is a political scheme orchestrated by men and their laws, and it is important to decipher it to avoid going backwards half a century on an issue that concerns us all: the right of all women to decide about their body and their future.
Trump promised that he would end Roe vs. Wade when he was a candidate the first time and, with this goal in mind, he appointed two judges − white, male, conservative and anti-abortion − to the Supreme Court, which is composed of nine judges. He changed the balance of the court in his favor and hopes that the verdict on the Louisiana law will happen just before the November elections and bring him a significant number of votes. It is not decent to exploit for the sake of votes something so delicate − and at times so painful − in the life of a woman as the decision to abort.
What is ironic that, were she alive, McCorvey probably would support the campaign to reelect Trump. She died of a heart attack at the age of 69 and she dedicated her last days to the anti-abortion fight. Roe converted to Catholicism 10 years before she died and claimed that her pro-abortion activism was “the biggest mistake of [my] life.” [https://www.openheaven.com/2017/02/20/norma-mccorvey-jane-roe-roe-v-wade-became-pro-life-dies-69-biggest-mistake-life/] She has the right to change her mind, just as women also have the right to decide what happens with their bodies and their lives when faced with the enormous responsibility of bringing another life into the world.