Shelley Lynn Thornton reveals she is baby at the center of Roe v. Wade

Baby at center of landmark Roe v. Wade case reveals her identity for FIRST time after decades of secrecy

  • Shelley Lynn Thornton, 51, revealed she is the youngest daughter of Norma McCorvey – the woman known as Jane Roe
  • Thornton told journalist Joshua Prager she had decided to speak out because she wanted to free herself from the ‘secrets and lies’
  • She said she never met her birth mother in person before McCorvey’s death 
  • McCorvey, then 22 and living in Texas, filed a lawsuit in 1970 under the name ‘Jane Roe,’ asking to be able to have an abortion
  • By the time the law passed in 1973, McCorvey had given birth and put the baby up for adoption
  • Prager’s new book ‘The Family Roe: An American Story’ details what happened 

The baby at the center of Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to have an abortion in the US, has revealed her identity for the first time.

Shelley Lynn Thornton, a 51-year-old mother-of-three, has come forward to reveal that she is the youngest daughter of Norma McCorvey – the woman known as Jane Roe – and grew up with adoptive parents who didn’t believe in abortion.

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

‘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 extract from Prager’s new book ‘The Family Roe: An American Story’, published in The Atlantic.  

She said her views on abortion are now complex, saying ‘I don’t understand why it’s a government concern’ but revealing that when she fell pregnant at 20 she decided abortion was ‘not part of who I was.’ 

Norma McCorvey aka ‘Jane Roe’ (left) and her attorney Gloria Allred at the Supreme Court building in Washington in 1989. The baby at the center of Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to have an abortion in the US, has revealed her identity for the first time

McCorvey, then 22 and living in Texas, filed a lawsuit in 1970 under the name ‘Jane Roe,’ asking to be able to have an abortion.

She was unmarried and had already given birth to two other daughters, who she had given up for adoption. 

At the time, abortion was illegal except for where the mother’s life was at risk. 

The suit, which came to define reproductive rights across America, rumbled on until 1973.

By this time, McCorvey had given birth to the baby, given her up for adoption and the toddler was two-and-a-half and living with new parents. 

Thornton revealed that neither she nor her adoptive parents learned she was the infant dubbed the ‘Roe baby’ by the anti-abortion community until almost two decades later. 

In 2007, McCorvey then publicly spoke out to say she wanted to track down her third child. 

The National Enquirer carried out an investigation with the help of a woman named Toby Hanft, who had given her own daughter up for adoption when she was younger and now worked connecting birth mothers with the children they had given up.  

Hanft managed to identify and track down Thornton. 

When Thornton found out her mom was Jane Doe, she said she knew little about the case other than it ‘made it OK for people to go out and be promiscuous’.

McCorvey 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 only thing I knew about being pro-life or pro-choice or even Roe v. Wade was that this person had made it OK for people to go out and be promiscuous,’ she said. 

She said she was left ‘shaking all over and crying’ following the bombshell revelation.  

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

She was already planning to wed her partner Doug but she was ‘not at all’ eager to become a mother and Doug suggested they consider an abortion, she said, according to the excerpt.

Thornton said her ties to the Roe v. Wade case had caused her to rethink her views on abortion.

But she realized that abortion was ‘not part of who I was’ and decided to keep the baby – a son. 

Thornton told Prager she had come to the conclusion that religion and politics should not play a part in abortion law.

‘I guess I don’t understand why it’s a government concern,’ she said.   

Thornton had always known she was adopted and had longed to make contact with her birth mother, she said. 

She was the only child of her adopted parents Ruth Schmidt and Billy Thornton, who – after being unable to conceive their own child – reached out to attorney Henry McCluskey to help them adopt.

The couple took her home at three days old in June 1970, with no knowledge that their child was at the center of the high-profile lawsuit. 

Roe v. Wade: The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America

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. 

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, to protect McCorvey’s privacy.

Supreme Court Decision

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). 

Impact 

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.

One such was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned a procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.   

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

Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)

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. 

‘The Heartbeat bill’

Multiple governors have signed legislation outlawing abortion if a doctor can detect a so-called ‘fetal heartbeat,’ part of a concerted effort to restrict abortion rights in states across the country.

Under the ban doctors will be prosecuted for flouting the rules.

Abortion-rights supporters see the ‘heartbeat bills’ as virtual bans because ‘fetal heartbeats’ can be detected as early as six weeks, when women may not be aware they are pregnant.

Anti-abortion campaigners have intensified their efforts since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed two conservative justices to the US Supreme Court, hopeful they can convince the right-leaning court to re-examine Roe v. Wade.

Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana have enacted ‘heartbeat laws’ recently, and Alabama passed an even more restrictive version in May, amounting to a near total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. Other states have similar legislation pending.

Similar laws has also been passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Kentucky, though they have been blocked by courts from going into effect as legal challenges have been brought against them.

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