Today is the anniversary of the legalization of abortion in America. It is the day many pro-life groups march for the right to life and the dignity of the unborn. It is following the day that many women marched for women’s rights. Somehow, the two groups have been cast as enemies of one another. But I can’t take one side to the demonization of the other. I want women to be free from assault and given equal treatment and respect. I also want families to be protected and supported, and basic life honored from conception to natural death. I’ve been thinking about the two marches a lot this weekend, knowing that some women, like me, desire to participate in both. And I think of two women whose voices were silenced for the “greater good” of “women’s rights.”
Norma McCorvey, known as “Jane Roe” in the Roe v. Wade case, was homeless when she got pregnant in 1969. Her two older children were being raised by other people. She got in touch with a lawyer to ask about adoption options. She was referred to lawyers Weddington and Coffee, who were looking for a plaintiff to challenge abortion laws. McCorvey did not have strong opinions on abortion and was not seeking a legal case to obtain one. She signed their affidavit without reading it and only looked up the term abortion afterword.
Sandra Cano, known as “Jane Doe” in the Doe v. Bolton case, was in a bad marriage with three children in foster care in 1970. She was also pregnant. She went to Atlanta Legal Aid to seek a divorce and try to get her children back. She never sought an abortion. Later, she discovered that Doe allegations said she applied to the Abortion Committee of Grady Memorial Hospital and was denied 16 days later. Cano has testified in court and before Congress she never sought an abortion, and that in fact when her mother and lawyer pressed her to abort, she went to Oklahoma until they promised she could keep her child.
The Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, decided on Jan. 22, 1973, struck down many restrictions on abortions and made it legal in the country until the third trimester—and for health reasons even later. Doe v. Bolton specified that “health” as “physical emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age” (so basically, whatever). The cases rested on the right to privacy between a patient and doctor.
After the Roe decision, McCorvey became an abortion-rights icon. She worked in abortion clinics. She said of her experience, “Early in my abortion career, it became evident that the ‘counselors’ and the abortionists were there for only one reason – to sell abortions. …There was never an explanation of the procedure. No one even explained to the mother that the child already existed and the life of a human was being terminated. No one ever explained that there were options to abortion, that financial help was available, or that the child was a unique and irreplaceable. No one ever explained that there were psychological and physical risks of harm to the mother. There was never time for the mother to reflect or to consult with anyone who could offer her help or an alternative.”
In the early 2000s, Cano filed a motion to overturn her case on the grounds that she never agreed to be a participant in it. She was told the statute of limitations had passed. The District Court denied her on procedural grounds, and the U.S. Appeals upheld the District decision. Cano passed away in 2014.
McCorvey met a pro-life group that moved in across the street from the clinic where she worked. She eventually became pro-life herself in 1995 and began working with pro-life groups. She said, “I long for the day that justice will be done and the burden from all of these deaths will be removed from my shoulders. I want to do everything in my power to help women and their children.”