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Roe et al. v. Wade: 1973

Norma Mccorvey Tests The Law

The "Jane Roe" whose name would be attached to this national divide was actually 21-year-old Norma McCorvey. McCorvey's marriage had ended, and her daughter, age 5, was being reared by McCorvey's mother and stepfather. In the summer of 1969, McCorvey was working as a ticket seller for a traveling carnival; by early autumn she had lost her job and had become pregnant. McCorvey wanted to end her pregnancy, but abortion was illegal in Texas except in cases where it was deemed necessary to save a woman's life. McCorvey's search for an illegal abortionist was unsuccessful.

However, it led her to two young attorneys, both women and both interested in challenging the existing abortion laws: Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington. Although there was virtually no chance that McCorvey herself would be helped if Coffee and Weddington succeeded in overturning the abortion laws (one could count on pregnancy coming to a conclusion well before any lawsuit simultaneously began), McCorvey agreed to become Coffee's and Weddington's plaintiff in a test case.

Texas had passed its anti-abortion law in 1859. Like other such laws in the United States, it punished only the persons performing or "furnishing the means for" an abortion. This posed a problem for Coffee and Weddington: They knew it could be argued that a pregnant woman, presumably not the target of a law restricting medical practice, "lacked standing to sue" regarding that law's supposed unconstitutionality. And if they passed this hurdle with McCorvey's case, they knew they'd face another: When McCorvey gave birth or at least passed the point where an abortion could be safely performed, her case—having resolved itself—might be declared moot and thrown out of court. Linda Coffee prepared and filed the pleading anyway.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Roe et al. v. Wade: 1973 - Norma Mccorvey Tests The Law, Constitutional Issues, State Court Favors Plaintiff, Supreme Court Hears The Case