Norma McCorvey died of heart failure today in Katy, Texas. She was 69. Her grave will undoubtedly be marked with that humble, unassuming name – Norma. Generations from now, women will walk past her without ever knowing how important she was.
They won’t know that she sparked innumerable protests, that her pseudonym was synonymous with the American women’s movement, that her legal battle secured privacy rights we hold more sacrosanct than most others.
They certainly won’t know she’s one of the reasons I went to law school. They’ll have no idea that her right to privacy became my unending yearning to understand the United States Constitution.
They won’t know I’m only one of thousands of women who felt the same way.
In short, they won’t know that Norma McCorvey was Jane Roe. Yes, that Jane Roe – of Roe v. Wade.
Ultimately, the reasons Norma McCorvey became Jane Roe are unimportant. Pro-choice advocates needed a test case and Norma’s unwanted pregnancy came about at just the right time.
Because of Norma, one of the greatest constitutional battles in our nation’s history was fought – and won – by women’s rights advocates.
Ironically, the Fourteenth Amendment privacy rights forever tied to the name Jane Roe were not a product of Norma’s thinking. They were the arguments of scholars who lived and breathed constitutional jurisprudence. It was lawyers who so intimately connected the right to privacy with a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body.
Yet, no one remembers them.
We remember Jane Roe. We remember that post Roe v. Wade, some 50 million safe and legal abortions have been performed in the United States.
Of course, Jane Roe – Norma – shouldn’t be remembered or applauded as a champion of abortion rights. After all, Norma became a pro-life advocate in the mid-1990s. And that is exactly why Norma – not Jane – matters.
Without even trying, Norma became the ultimate symbol of First Amendment rights. She exercised freely her constitutional right to speak her mind. I didn’t like her change of heart. Like many women, I worried that conservatives would cling to Norma’s pro-life stance as a justification for overturning Wade. All of us were missing the point. In truth, Norma’s opinion never really mattered.
It didn’t matter until it stood for something else – until it stood for the uniquely American right to believe what you want to believe and to express those beliefs with fervor. And today, on the day that Norma died, it is that First Amendment right that is in the greatest jeopardy in this country. We are living under the rule of a president who wants to deport people for burning the flag (conduct the United States Supreme Court declared constitutional in 1989).
So today, on the day Norma left this earth, I celebrate her for speaking her mind. I applaud the courage it took for her to make (and express) a change of heart unpopular with those who held her dear. Today, I hope that Norma’s name can live on as a symbol of the freedom of expression and of the very thing that makes America great. God speed, Norma. We will remember you.
Watch this video to learn about why Roe v. Wade was and is so important (graphic stories, children may need supervision):
Watch this video to learn more about the legality behind Roe v. Wade: