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As the Supreme Court appears set to strike down Roe vs. Wade, a history of the landmark decision

The history of the legislation, which has proved controversial since it was made in 1973, dates back half a century.

Roe vs Wade: The Texas mother who won the landmark 1973 case but then became a fierce opponent of abortion rights - and her 'Roe Baby' daughter who finally revealed her identity last year

  • The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy 
  • Because of state legislation preventing abortions unless the mother's life is at risk, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment 
  • So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas county district attorney, in 1970. The case went on to the Supreme Court, under the filing Roe vs Wade 
  • In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman's constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade 
  • The Supreme Court made the watershed 7-2 decision that a woman's right to make her own medical decisions is protected under the 14th amendment 

By Stephen M. Lepore and Natasha Anderson For Dailymail.Com

Published: 04:40 BST, 3 May 2022 | Updated: 14:20 BST, 3 May 2022

Norma McCorvey, known as 'Jane Roe', is pictured in January 1983. A decade earlier she had won a landmark abortion case - but the baby she wished to abort, Shelley Lynn Thornton, was born before the case concluded
Norma McCorvey, known as 'Jane Roe', is pictured in January 1983. A decade earlier she had won a landmark abortion case - but the baby she wished to abort, Shelley Lynn Thornton, was born before the case concluded

Norma McCorvey, known as 'Jane Roe', is pictured in January 1983. A decade earlier she had won a landmark abortion case - but the baby she wished to abort, Shelley Lynn Thornton, was born before the case concluded

The Supreme Court has voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion in the United States, a bombshell report revealed on Monday.

The decision, outlined in a majority draft opinion that was leaked to the public, repudiates both Roe v Wade and the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs Casey Decision. This is the first such case in modern history of a Supreme Court draft decision being leaked to the public while the case was still pending. 

The history of the Roe v Wade, which has proved controversial since it was made in 1973, dates back half a century.

The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy. 

She married at the age of 16, but separated shortly after while she was pregnant. She gave custody of her daughter to her mother. 

She gave a second child up for adoption, but when she got pregnant a third time she decided to have an abortion. 

She said she couldn’t afford to travel to one of the handful of states where it would have been legal. Because of state legislation preventing abortions unless the mother's life is at risk, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment. 

McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas county district attorney, in 1970. The case went on to the Supreme Court, under the filing Roe vs Wade, to protect McCorvey's privacy.

Sarah Weddington and a former classmate, Linda Coffee, brought a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a pregnant woman challenging a state law that largely banned abortions.

She had been among only five women out of a class of 1,600 to graduate with a law degree from the University of Texas in 1967.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman's constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The landmark ruling legalized abortion nationwide but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since. 

If and when the leaked draft is made final, the decision removes the federal right to abortion in America, leaving it up to elected officials in each state to decide whether or not women should have access to abortions.

Twenty-six states are likely to ban it if Roe v. Wade is formally overturned, essentially outlawing abortion in more than half of the country. Eighteen states already have restrictive abortion laws in place. 

McCorvey is pictured in July 2011. She died in 2017 without ever meeting Shelley in person. The pair spoke on the phone in 1989
McCorvey is pictured in July 2011. She died in 2017 without ever meeting Shelley in person. The pair spoke on the phone in 1989

McCorvey is pictured in July 2011. She died in 2017 without ever meeting Shelley in person. The pair spoke on the phone in 1989 

She sought an abortion in 1969 after becoming pregnant with her third child, but she ended up giving birth and putting the baby up for adoption
She sought an abortion in 1969 after becoming pregnant with her third child, but she ended up giving birth and putting the baby up for adoption

Norma McCorvey aka 'Jane Roe' (left) and her attorney Gloria Allred at the Supreme Court in 1989, the year she made her identity known. After winning Roe vs Wade, Norma went on to be a face for women's rights before switching to be pro-life years later. She admitted before she died that she made the change in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars 

The Supreme Court handed down the watershed 7-2 decision that a woman's right to make her own medical decisions, including the choice to have an abortion, is protected under the 14th Amendment. 

In particular, that the Due Process Clause of the the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental 'right to privacy' that protects a woman's liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

The landmark ruling saw abortions decriminalized in 46 states, but under certain specific conditions which individual states could decide on. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimester but not the third (typically beyond 28 weeks). 

Among pro-choice campaigners, the decision was hailed as a victory which would mean fewer women would become seriously - or even fatally - ill from abortions carried out by unqualified or unlicensed practitioners. Moreover, the freedom of choice was considered a significant step in the equality fight for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest would be able to have the pregnancy terminated and not feel coerced into motherhood.

However, pro-lifers contended it was tantamount to murder and that every life, no matter how it was conceived, is precious. Though the decision has never been overturned, anti-abortionists have prompted hundreds of states laws since then narrowing the scope of the ruling.

Baby Roe: Shelley Lynn Thornton, a 51-year-old mother of three, has spoken out for the first time on camera. Her biological mother Norma McCorvey was Jane Roe, whose landmark lawsuit Roe vs Wade won women across America the right to have abortions
Baby Roe: Shelley Lynn Thornton, a 51-year-old mother of three, has spoken out for the first time on camera. Her biological mother Norma McCorvey was Jane Roe, whose landmark lawsuit Roe vs Wade won women across America the right to have abortions

Baby Roe: Shelley Lynn Thornton, a 51-year-old mother of three, has spoken out for the first time on camera. Her biological mother Norma McCorvey was Jane Roe, whose landmark lawsuit Roe vs Wade won women across America the right to have abortions

Shelley said she is neither pro-life or pro-choice. 'I don't understand why it's a government concern,' she said. She has three kids of her own and when she first became pregnant at 20, decided abortion was not 'part of who' she was
Shelley said she is neither pro-life or pro-choice. 'I don't understand why it's a government concern,' she said. She has three kids of her own and when she first became pregnant at 20, decided abortion was not 'part of who' she was

Shelley said she is neither pro-life or pro-choice. 'I don't understand why it's a government concern,' she said. She has three kids of her own and when she first became pregnant at 20, decided abortion was not 'part of who' she was 

Roe vs Wade: How the landmark ruling protected a woman's right to choose

The Roe v. Wade decision nearly 50 years ago recognized that the right to personal privacy under the US Constitution protects a woman's ability to terminate her pregnancy.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that the constitutional right to privacy applied to abortion.

Roe was 'Jane Roe,' a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, a single mother pregnant for the third time, who wanted an abortion.

She sued the Dallas attorney general Henry Wade over a Texas law that made it a crime to terminate a pregnancy except in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother's life was in danger.

Roe's lawyers said she was unable to travel out of the state to obtain an abortion and argued that the law was too vague and infringed on her constitutional rights.

Filing a complaint alongside her was Texas doctor James Hallford, who argued the law's medical provision was vague and that he was unable to reliably determine which of his patients fell into the allowed category.

The 'Does', another couple who were childless, also filed a companion complaint, saying that medical risks made it unsafe but not life-threatening for the wife to carry a pregnancy to term, and arguing they should be able to obtain a safe, legal abortion should she become pregnant.

The trio of complaints - from a woman who wanted an abortion, a doctor who wanted to perform them and a non-pregnant woman who wanted the right if the need arose - ultimately reached the nation's top court.

The court heard arguments twice, and then waited until after Republican president Richard Nixon's re-election, in November 1972.

Only the following January did it offer its historic seven-to-two decision - overturning the Texas laws and setting a legal precedent that has had ramifications in all 50 states.

Following the ruling, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe. 

McCorvey became a leading, outspoken pro-abortion voice in American discourse, even working at a women's clinic where abortions were performed.

However, she performed an unlikely U-turn in 1995, becoming a born-again Christian and began traveling the country speaking out against the procedure.

In 2003, a she filed a motion to overturn her original 1973 ruling with the U.S. district court in Dallas. The motion moved through the courts until it was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court in 2005.

McCorvey died at an assisted living home in Texas in February 2017, aged 69. She admitted before she died that she made the change in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

'This is my deathbed confession,' she said. 'I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say. That’s what I’d say.' 

In the interview, McCorvey refered to herself as 'the Big Fish' in the eyes of evangelical leaders who were eager to have her publicly switch sides and take up their cause. 

In addressing her activism for the religious right, McCorvey boasts: 'I'm a good actress.'

Shelley Lynn Thornton, now 51, is the biological daughter of Norma McCorvey and spoke on the record for the first time in 2021.

Thornton was two-and-a-half when Roe v Wade was decided. She had been adopted by Ruth Schmidt and Billy Thornton as a baby. 

Thornton appeared on Good Morning America for her first ever TV interview. Her identity was only made public in September by The Atlantic.  

'A lot of people didn't know I existed,' she said, adding she fears the world blames her for abortion being legal. 

'It doesn't revolve around me, I wasn't the one who created this law. I'm not the one who created this movement. I had nothing to do with it. I was just a little itty-bitty thing and, you know, circumstances prevailed. 

'My whole thinking is that, "oh God everybody is going to hate me because everyone is going to blame me for abortion being legal,"' she said. 

Thornton, who never met her birth mother in person before her death in 2017, told journalist Joshua Prager she had decided to speak out after more than half a century because she wanted to free herself from the 'secrets and lies.'

Shelley Thorton was adopted as a baby and raised by Ruth and Billy Thornton, a married couple. She is their only child. She was two-and-a-half when Roe v Wade was decided
Shelley Thorton was adopted as a baby and raised by Ruth and Billy Thornton, a married couple. She is their only child. She was two-and-a-half when Roe v Wade was decided

Shelley Thorton was adopted as a baby and raised by Ruth and Billy Thornton, a married couple. She is their only child. She was two-and-a-half when Roe v Wade was decided

Norma McCorvey (left)  holds a pro-choice sign with former attorney Gloria Allred (right) in front of the US Supreme Court building on April 26, 1989
Norma McCorvey (left)  holds a pro-choice sign with former attorney Gloria Allred (right) in front of the US Supreme Court building on April 26, 1989

Norma McCorvey (left)  holds a pro-choice sign with former attorney Gloria Allred (right) in front of the US Supreme Court building on April 26, 1989

'Secrets and lies are, like, the two worst things in the whole world. I'm keeping a secret, but I hate it,' she said, in an adapted excerpt from Prager's new book 'The Family Roe: An American Story', published in The Atlantic.  

'I want everyone to understand that this is something I've chosen to do.' 

She says she has never forgiven McCorvey for trying to 'use her for publicity' when she was a teenager and discovered who she was after being confronted by National Enquirer reporters her biological mother had enlisted.  

'They'd asked me if I'd ever heard of her before and I said no. And they said, 'Well, she is the woman who they used to do the Roe versus Wade case. She was Jane Roe.'" 

She said she'd grown up with the idea that 'if a family member had a baby, they couldn't take care of it, then somebody else in the family took it and took care of it.'

Norma McCorvey aka 'Jane Roe' (left) and her attorney Gloria Allred at the Supreme Court in 1989, the year she made her identity known. After winning Roe vs Wade, Norma went on to be a face for women's rights before switching to be pro-life years later. She admitted before she died that she made the change in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars 

The reporters told her who her biological mother was then asked her if she was 'pro life or pro choice' which she said she didn't understand.  

'And that's really hard to grasp when you're in that kind of a situation and you're just kind of like learning all of this stuff,' she said. 

Schmidt ended the meeting and the pair left. They asked the Enquirer not to reveal Thornton's identity and the magazine respected her wishes. 

Afterwards, Thornton spoke to McCorvey on the phone. 

 She didn't deserve to meet me. She never did anything in her life to get that privilege back. She never expressed genuine feeling for me or genuine remorse for doing the things that she did, saying the things that she did over and over and over again

'It became apparent to me really quickly that the only reason why she wanted to reach out to me and find me was because she wanted to use me for publicity.

'She didn't deserve to meet me,' Thornton said. 'She never did anything in her life to get that privilege back.'

'She never expressed genuine feeling for me or genuine remorse for doing the things that she did, saying the things that she did over and over and over again. 

'She wasn't sorry, about giving me away or anything,' she said. 

Thornton said last year she will never forgive McCorvey 'mostly because I feel that she could have handled things a lot better.'

She said she wished she had been 'upfront' about craving media attention over a real relationship with her.

'I can deal with that. I can't deal with lies and treachery and things like that. To me, that's like no, sorry, not playing that game with you. And that's all it was. It was a game. It was a game. I was just a pawn, and I wasn't going to let her do it.'  

McCorvey is pictured in 1998. Shelley Lynn Thornton, 51, has come forward to reveal that she is the youngest daughter of McCorvey - the woman known as Jane Roe
McCorvey is pictured in 1998. Shelley Lynn Thornton, 51, has come forward to reveal that she is the youngest daughter of McCorvey - the woman known as Jane Roe

McCorvey is pictured in 1998. Shelley Lynn Thornton, 51, has come forward to reveal that she is the youngest daughter of McCorvey - the woman known as Jane Roe

The Enquirer published an article in 1989 revealing the so-called 'Roe baby' had been found but, at her request, did not reveal Thornton's identity.

Two years after the Enquirer article and as an unmarried 20-year-old, Thornton discovered she was pregnant.

She was already planning to marry her partner Doug but said she was 'not at all' eager to become a mother.

Doug had suggested they consider an abortion, but Thornton said her ties to the Roe v. Wade case had caused her to rethink her views on abortion. 

When the Enquirer had tracked her down, Thornton's adoptive mom, Schmidt, told the journalist 'we don't believe in abortion,' she said.

The publication had then described her as pro-life because she had told the journalist 'she couldn't see herself having an abortion.'

Thornton said she was unhappy with this description because she regarded pro-life as 'a bunch of religious fanatics going around and doing protests.' 

Shelley Thornton (pictured during childhood) knew she was adopted but didn't know who her birth mother was until 1989 when she was contacted by reporters from The National Enquirer
Shelley Thornton (pictured during childhood) knew she was adopted but didn't know who her birth mother was until 1989 when she was contacted by reporters from The National Enquirer

Shelley Thornton (pictured during childhood) knew she was adopted but didn't know who her birth mother was until 1989 when she was contacted by reporters from The National Enquirer 

After the Roe v. Wade ruling, McCorvey lived quietly for several years before revealing herself as Jane Roe in the 1980s. She also confessed to lying when she said the pregnancy was the result of rape. 

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, she remained an ardent supporter of abortion rights and worked for a time at a Dallas women's clinic where abortions were performed. 

But she did an about-face and later spoke out on behalf of anti-abortion campaigners after befriending The Rev. Philip 'Flip' Benham when his anti-abortion group moved next door to the clinic where she was working.

She was baptized an evangelical Christian before network TV cameras by Benham, who was the leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America. 

Her religious conversion led her to give up her female lover, Connie Gonzales. She said the relationship turned platonic in the early 1990s and that once she became a Christian she believed homosexuality was wrong. 

A short time later, she underwent another religious conversion and became a Roman Catholic and left Operation Rescue. Though she was still against abortion, she said she had reservations about the group's confrontational style.

McCorvey formed her own group, Roe No More Ministry, in 1997 and traveled around the U.S. speaking out against abortion. In testimony for a Senate subcommittee in 1998, McCorvey said: 'I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.' 

In 2005, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by McCorvey to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

McCorvey was baptized an evangelical Christian in the 1990s before network TV cameras by Benham, who was the leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America
McCorvey was baptized an evangelical Christian in the 1990s before network TV cameras by Benham, who was the leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America

McCorvey was baptized an evangelical Christian in the 1990s before network TV cameras by Benham, who was the leader of Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America

Norma McCorvey stands with her friend Meredith Champion, 9, at an Operation Rescue rally in downtown Dallas in January 1997
Norma McCorvey stands with her friend Meredith Champion, 9, at an Operation Rescue rally in downtown Dallas in January 1997

Norma McCorvey stands with her friend Meredith Champion, 9, at an Operation Rescue rally in downtown Dallas in January 1997

McCorvey had written two autobiographies in her lifetime - one about pro-abortion and later about her change in stance.

The first, 'I Am Roe' in 1994, included abortion-rights sentiments along with details of her early life of dysfunctional parents, reform school, petty crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, an abusive husband, an attempted suicide and lesbianism.

McCorvey was born in Louisiana in 1947 and spent part of her childhood there until her family moved to Dallas. 

In her book, she recounted stealing money at the age of 10 from the gas station where she worked afternoons and weekends and running away to Oklahoma City before being returned home by police. 

She was eventually sent to a state reform school for girls in the northern Texas town of Gainesville, living there from the age of 11 to 15. 

She married Elwood McCorvey at the age of 16, but separated shortly after while she was pregnant. With her drug and alcohol problems, she gave custody of her daughter, Melissa Mills, to her mother who eventually adopted the girl.

McCorvey fell pregnant to a different man and gave the baby up for adoption in 1967.

It was her third pregnancy that catapulted her into the abortion rights struggle. 

Her first child was the only one of her three children who was a part of her mother's life. Mills was with McCorvey when she died.

Before Shelley, Norma McCorvey had two other daughters who she put up for adoption. Melissa Mills is one of them (pictured in 2021). Her first child was the only one of her three children who was a part of her mother's life. Mills was with McCorvey when she died
Before Shelley, Norma McCorvey had two other daughters who she put up for adoption. Melissa Mills is one of them (pictured in 2021). Her first child was the only one of her three children who was a part of her mother's life. Mills was with McCorvey when she died

Before Shelley, Norma McCorvey had two other daughters who she put up for adoption. Melissa Mills is one of them (pictured in 2021). Her first child was the only one of her three children who was a part of her mother's life. Mills was with McCorvey when she died

Politico reported Monday night that Justice Samuel Alito, one of six justices appointed by Republican presidents on the nine-member court, wrote a majority draft opinion in February repudiating both Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision.

'Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,' Alito writes in the opinion, which was reportedly circulated among the court members. 'We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,' he continues in the document, titled 'Opinion of the Court.'

'It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives.'

The news sent shock waves throughout Washington D.C. with Democrats vowing to codify the legal right to an abortion into law and Republicans celebrating the news. 

The draft document is not final until the court formally announces its decision in a case, meaning the ruling could still be changed. The court is expected to issue its final ruling before its term is up in late June or early July.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion is likely to remain legal in liberal states as more than a dozen states currently have laws protecting abortion rights.  

However, abortion rights have been under threat in recent months as Republican-led states move to tighten rules - with some seeking to ban all abortions after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant - and have passed various abortion restrictions in defiance of the Roe precedent in recent years.

There are 18 states that have near-total bans on their books, while four more have time-limit band and four others are likely to pass new bans if Roe v. Wade is overturned
There are 18 states that have near-total bans on their books, while four more have time-limit band and four others are likely to pass new bans if Roe v. Wade is overturned

There are 18 states that have near-total bans on their books, while four more have time-limit band and four others are likely to pass new bans if Roe v. Wade is overturned

Republican appointed-Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett all voted to strike down Roe with Samuel Alito, Politico noted
Republican appointed-Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett all voted to strike down Roe with Samuel Alito, Politico noted

Republican appointed-Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett all voted to strike down Roe with Samuel Alito, Politico noted

Republicans could try to enact a nationwide abortion ban, while Democrats could also seek to protect abortion rights at the national level.

Twenty-six states are certain or likely to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the pro-abortion rights think tank the Guttmacher Institute.

Of those, 22 states already have total or near-total bans on the books that are currently blocked by Roe, aside from Texas.

The state's law banning it after six weeks has already been allowed to go into effect by the Supreme Court due to its unusual civil enforcement structure. Four more states are considered likely to quickly pass bans if Roe is overturned.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia, meanwhile, have protected access to abortion in state law.

This year, anticipating a decision overturning or gutting Roe, eight conservative states have already moved to restrict abortion rights.

Oklahoma, for example, passed several bills in recent weeks, including one that goes into effect this summer making it a felony to perform an abortion.

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