The Legacy of Roe V. Wade

By Barton Perkins

Contributing Writer

In June 1969 Norma L. McCorvey discovered that she was pregnant for the third time in her life. For personal and financial reasons, McCorvey had no wish to keep the child. In Texas at that time the only way to receive a legal abortion was to claim that the child was the result of incest or rape. Knowing this, McCorvey attempted to gain an abortion by feigning having been sexually assaulted by the father. However lack of forensic evidence and police documentation caused the case to be dismissed.

McCorvey then attempted to receive an illegal abortion, a risky procedure accounting for 17 percent of all pregnancy related deaths. Often individuals performed these procedures with little to no medical training, and with the use of unsterilized equipment or chemicals of varying levels of toxicity. Coat hangers and knitting needles were amongst the most common of these instruments. Chemicals such as lye and Clorox bleach were used as well.

However, McCorvey was unable to go through with the procedure, and was deferred to the lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington. At the time, both Coffee and Weddington were searching for a way to challenge stringent anti-abortion laws. After meeting with McCorvey, Coffee and Weddington aided her in filing suit against Texas district attorney Henry Wade.  To protect McCorvey’s privacy, she was to be referred to as ‘Jane Roe’ throughout the trial, and so began the case Roe V. Wade, evolving into one of the landmark legal cases of the twentieth century.

Roe V. Wade lasted from 1970 through 1973. During this time, McCorvey carried her child to term and gave it up for adoption. Despite this, the case continued on and finally reached the Supreme Court in 1971. The case raged on for an additional two years before the court reached a decision in 1973. Ultimately citing the ninth and fourteenth amendments, the Supreme Court legalized abortion up until the end of the first trimester or until fetal viability. Since the ruling, scientific advancements have changed the legal termination period of a pregnancy with the increase in fetal viability.

Here at Sewanee the Women’s Center is celebrating the anniversary of this case, starting on Tuesday, January 24th and going on through Tuesday January 31st, highlighting the importance of Roe V. Wade. The Women’s Center and the Women and Gender Studies department hosted a screening of the award winning documentary, Trapped, depicting the struggle of clinic workers and lawyers to protect a woman’s right to chose. An Art show is being put on in hopes of rallying people to attempt to repeal the restrictive Hyde Amendment. Former Texas senator Wendy Davis, known for filibustering for 12 hours to prevent the passing of more restrictive abortion laws, will speak in Convocation Hall the 31st.