Plaintiff in landmark US ruling that legalised abortion dies at 69

Ms McCorvey supported the abortion-rights movement in the 1980s but later spoke out against it.
Ms McCorvey supported the abortion-rights movement in the 1980s but later spoke out against it.

WASHINGTON • Ms Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff known as "Jane Roe" in the United States Supreme Court's landmark Roe v Wade ruling legalising abortion, has died at the age of 69, a journalist close to her said.

Ms McCorvey died on Saturday morning of heart failure at an assisted living home in Katy, Texas, said journalist Joshua Prager, who is writing a book about the ruling, in an e-mail.

Her lawsuit, filed under the pseudonym, resulted in the court's 1973 decision that established a woman's right to an abortion.

Ms McCorvey lent her real name to supporters of the abortion-rights movement in the 1980s.

When she emerged from anonymity, strangers shrieked "baby killer" and spat at her.

There were death threats.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling has for decades been the focus of a divisive political, legal and moral debate. It established that the US Constitution protects the right of a woman to have an abortion until the point of viability.

However, she did an about-face and later spoke out on behalf of anti-abortion campaigners.

In an article titled The Accidental Activist published in Vanity Fair magazine in February 2013, Mr Prager wrote that Ms McCorvey had never set out to further a cause when the Roe v Wade lawsuit was filed in Dallas, Texas, in 1970.

Unwed and poor, she simply wanted an abortion after becoming pregnant for the third time and could not get one in the state.

Mr Prager, who retraced her life through family, friends and advisers, said Ms McCorvey told her doctor she did not want to bring the pregnancy to term.

But she could not afford to travel to any of the six states where abortion was legal at the time: Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon and Washington.

Ms McCorvey never had the procedure, Mr Prager said. She gave up her three children at birth.

Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented Ms McCorvey when she supported abortion rights, said she was very proud to have been "Jane Roe".

Ms Allred said in a statement: "Even though at the end of her life, Norma thought women should be prevented from having an abortion and that abortion should be criminalised, her legacy will be Roe v Wade, which has provided millions of women the legal right to choose abortion."

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling has for decades been the focus of a divisive political, legal and moral debate.

It established that the US Constitution protects the right of a woman to have an abortion until the point of viability.

The court defined that point as when the foetus "has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb", generally at about 24 weeks into pregnancy.

The court also recognised a right to abortion after viability if necessary to protect the woman's life or health.

Efforts to overturn the decision are heating up with the election of Republican Donald Trump as president and a conservative US Congress. Mr Trump has said abortion should be largely banned and has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, a healthcare provider that draws the ire of many Republicans because it provides abortions, in addition to other services.

If the Supreme Court were to overrule Roe v Wade, the procedure would remain legal only where state laws allow it.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Plaintiff in landmark US ruling that legalised abortion dies at 69'. Print Edition | Subscribe