With a nation divided on vaccines and abortion, the baby at the heart of one of the most prolific U.S. Supreme Court cases has finally revealed her identity.
Shelley Lynn Thornton stepped forward to confirm that she is the baby at the center of the 1973 abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade. The new information came forth in an excerpt released by The Atlantic from a new book by Joshua Prager, “The Family Roe: An American Story.”
In 1969, when the landmark case was brought to the Supreme Court, Norma McCorvey, A.K.A. Jane Roe, was pregnant with her third child and living in Texas. At the time, Texas law banned any abortion, except for cases that would save the mother’s life. In fact, all but four states had the same law.
With a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling, the Roe v. Wade case ultimately decided that a woman has a constitutional right under the 14th Amendment to an abortion without excessive government overreach.
Even though the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey favored fetal viability and overruled Roe’s requirement that government regulations on abortion be reviewed using the strict scrutiny standard, Roe v Wade remains the go-to case for “pro-choice” activists in America.
Though SCOTUS accepted the case in 1969, the ruling was not issued until 1973. By then, McCorvey had already birthed the baby and had given her up for adoption. Getting pregnant and not wanting her children seemed to be something McCorvey was familiar with since she had previously given up her two other daughters, Melissa and Jennifer, for adoption.
In 1989 McCorvey announced publically that she was Jane Roe. She also appeared on the Today show and stated that she hoped to find her third child.
Though the adoption was no secret, Thornton was just 10 days from turning 19 when she found out her birth mother’s identity. Journalists from the National Enquirer had located her and wanted to interview her for a story they were covering, dropping the bomb on her in the process.
Before discovering the truth about her mother, Thornton said, “The only thing I knew about being pro-life or pro-choice or even Roe v. Wade was that this person had made it okay for people to go out and be promiscuous.” Thorton declined the initial interview with the tabloid.
“Here’s my chance at finding out who my birth mother was, and I wasn’t even going to be able to have control over it because I was being thrown into the Enquirer,” she recalled.
The journalists wouldn’t take no for an answer and instead pushed her to at least confirm her stance. Was she pro-life or pro-choice? The National Enquirer ran the story regardless of Thornton’s cooperation, though they kept her identity a secret. Eventually, Thorton agreed to go on the record.
“I’m glad to know that my birth mother is alive and that she loves me—but I’m really not ready to see her. And I don’t know when I’ll ever be ready—if ever.” Adding, “In some ways, I can’t forgive her … I know now that she tried to have me aborted.”
Thornton was a teenager, more concerned about shopping for shoes, spending time with her friends, and of course, dating cute boys. She ultimately claimed she couldn’t see herself having an abortion. The Enquirer took this to mean she was “pro-life,” even though Throton had not confirmed that.
Thornton had spoken to her biological mother on the phone after that, but she didn’t feel that the connections were genuine. It seemed more like her mother was seeking financial gain or clout, regardless of the front she put on for others.
“I want her to know; I’ll never force myself upon her. I can wait until she’s ready to contact me—even if it takes years,” McCorvey said in the Enquirer article. “And when she’s ready, I’m ready to take her in my arms and give her my love and be her friend.”
After all, the reason the National Enquirer reached out to her was at the beckoning of her birth mother, using a recent successful celebrity reunion of the same nature in an attempt to sway Thornton into complying.
Years later, in 1995, McCorvey wanted to visit her daughter and bring her lesbian partner with her. Thornton, conflicted with her morality and desire to meet her mother in person finally, asked McCorvey to exercise discretion in front of her then 3-year-old son.
“How am I going to explain to a 3-year-old that not only is this person your grandmother, but she is kissing another woman?”
This enraged McCorvey, who began yelling at Thornton, telling her she should be thankful she wasn’t aborted. Thornton said, “I was like, ‘What?! I’m supposed to thank you for getting knocked up … and then giving me away.’ ”
“I told her I would never, ever thank her for not aborting me.”
Her mother’s atrocious behavior made her double down on doing the right thing for her own child. She knew what it was like to be a burden and feel unloved. She vowed to make sure her son would never know these feelings. In 2012, she decided it was time to tell her story and began the arduous process with Prager.
In 2013, Thornton finally met her two half-sisters in their home state of Texas. The oldest of the three, Melissa, was the only one who truly knew their mother. The other sister, Jennifer, desired to meet their mother, but Thornton was unsure if she ever would.
Four years later, Melissa contacted her sisters to let them know that their mother was intubated at a hospital in Texas and actively dying. Thornton didn’t have much time to decide if she wanted to make the trek from her Tucson, Arizona, home or not.
“I’m sitting here going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and then it’s going to be too late,” she recalled. Her indecision remained and, at the age of 69, McCorvey passed away in 2017 without ever meeting her youngest daughter.
Prager’s excerpt ends with this, “From Shelley’s perspective, it was clear that if she, the Roe baby, could be said to represent anything, it was not the sanctity of life but the difficulty of being born unwanted.”
The timing of this reveal is impeccable as the state of Texas recently enacted a new ban on abortions that leaves Roe v. Wade in upheaval in the very state that started it all.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to allow the new Texas ban to stand until proper legal backing is presented, taking the state back to its pre-Roe v. Wade roots.
Dubbed the “Heartbeat Bill,” the order bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which occurs around six weeks gestation, even in the case of incest or rape. Medical emergency is now the only viable option for abortion after six weeks. It also imbues private citizens with the right to seek legal action against those who help a woman obtain an abortion.