Norma McCorvey remains a major thorn in the side of the pro-choice movement: the once working-class lesbian woman who initiated the landmark Roe v. Wade in 1973 has since become a Christian activist, anti-gay crusader, and spokesperson for many anti-choice campaigns.
In the 1970s, McCorvey claimed she had beeen impregnated by a non-consentual sexual encounter (a claim she later refuted) and tried to access an abortion in Texas. While she ended up carrying to term, this struggle was adopted by lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee and eventually brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, with McCorvey's name becoming the generic "Jane Roe" for anonymity. State bans on abortion were overturned on the basis of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of the right to privacy.
In the 1980s, McCorvey wrote her autobiography, I Am Roe, where she officially came out as Roe. She also wrote of her struggles with homelessness and drug abuse, as well as her sexual identity. It was in 1994 that she met an anti-choice activist from the extremist group Operation Rescue. McCorvey was introduced to OR's (medically inaccurate) fetal development pamphlets and became convinced she had been wrong about abortion. She was baptized, renounced her lesbianism, and quickly became the voice of the anti-choice movement.
Ever since then, the mainstream pro-choice movement has struggled with McCorvey's story, carefully navigating the distinction between Roe the person and Roe the symbol. We rationalize her experience by simply writing her off as yet another victim of anti-chioce guilt and shame... and to a point, I believe we're right to do so.
And yet there's one thing I feel so many of us are unwilling or somehow just unable to say: that Norma McCorvey is, in fact, not Roe.
Not in the singular sense, anyway. You see, McCorvey's situation was not unique, and it was not just her situation that was used by Weddington and Coffee in the legendary Roe v. Wade case. McCorvey's situation was the situation of tens of thousands of women all over the country, and so it remains. The moment McCorvey became "Roe," so did all women with reproductive capability. Weddington and Coffee did not argue just to allow Norma McCorvey have an abortion, they fought for ALL women to be able to have abortions. The Supreme Court's decision to allow "Roe" to have legal abortions was not a decision to just let McCorvey have an abortion; it was the decision that stated that ALL women are guaranteed autonomy over their bodies by the U.S. Constitution. "Roe" became symbolic of all American women the very moment the case was heard by the Supreme Court.
The experience of Norma McCorvey is no more valid or important than the experiences of any other woman who finds herself facing an unplanned pregnancy, or a pregnancy that she finds she cannot continue for personal or medical reasons. And that goes for all women with reproductive capability, whether they be pro- or anti-choice. The use of Norma McCorvey as a symbol against abortion only threatens choice if we allow McCorvey to singularly define who Roe is and what is best for her. And if all women are Roe, each with their own unique situation, there can be no gains for using an emblematic "Roe" against complete reproductive justice.