In 1969, Norma McCorvey was just 21 and living in Dallas with her father when she got pregnant for the third time. She was poor, working menial jobs and couldn't afford another child. She wanted an abortion, but she also couldn't afford the trip to one of the six states that allowed the practice at the time. Instead, she teamed up with a pair of pro-choice lawyers and sued Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade using the alias Jane Roe.
The suit would make it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, which enshrined in precedent a woman's right to an abortion and turned McCorvey, who revealed her identity in the days following the ruling, into a symbol of the women's rights movement.
The role didn't suit her, and she returned to Dallas and moved in with her partner, Connie Gonzalez. They lived a quiet life. "We're not like other lesbians, going to bars," she would tell The New York Times in 1994. "We're lesbians together. We're homers."
But as Vanity Fair explores in a February article tracing her life, McCorvey's life was always a bit more complicated than she pretended.
Daughter Melissa, who occasionally spent holidays with McCorvey, says she remembers the presence of marijuana plants. "Their home was the party to be at," recalls Susanne Ashworth, an executive at a steel company in Dallas who met Norma and Connie in 1982 and became a good friend. "I hadn't been 'out' three or four years. I was a kid in a candy store"-- thankful for entrée to a close-knit lesbian circle.
She made headlines in 1989 when she reported some took at shot at her and Gonzalez at their Cactus Lane home in Northwest Dallas -- an incident that Gonzalez and others tell Vanity Fair never happened. And later, she shed all pretense of anonymity when she published an autobiography, converted to evangelical Christianity and became an outspoken opponent of abortion. She was baptized in a Garland swimming pool.
At some point during her years in Dallas, McCorvey changed from a reluctant protagonist in a huge national battle to a canny operator eking out a living from her tarnished fame. She gave talks, got some royalty checks from a made-for-TV movie starring Holly Hunter, and made some amount from her two autobiographies.
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"[I]n truth," Vanity Fair writes, "McCorvey has long been less pro-choice or pro-life than pro-Norma. And she has played Jane Roe every which way, venturing far from the original script to wring a living from the issue that has come to define her existence."
McCorvey now lives in Smithville, a small town outside Austin. When the magazine caught up with her, she was making a cameo in the independent film Doonby, advising a pregnant girl against getting an abortion. When the writer, Joshua Prager, told her he wouldn't pay her a $1,000 fee, she refused to be interviewed.
Along the way, she's managed to alienate just about everyone. "She's a phony," Gonzalez, her partner for nearly a quarter century, told Prager. "Norma has never been able to do the right thing," says her daughter Melissa. "Never." McCorvey's own mother refers to her as a "die-hard whore."
Her pastor, Father. Frank Pavone (she converted to Catholicism in 1998), told Vanity Fair that McCorvey "now subsists on free room and board from strangers, and 'a few hundred dollars here and there' from his church. Roe has been her life, but it's no longer much of a living."