The person known as the “Roe baby,” referred to as such because of her birth mother’s role in the landmark case protecting abortion, allowed herself to be publicly identified for the first time Thursday.
Shelley Lynn Thornton, now 51, revealed herself as the so-called “Roe baby” in The Atlantic, which published an excerpt from an upcoming book about her, her birth mother, her half-sisters and the ways their lives unfolded after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Thornton’s birth mother was the plaintiff in that case who wanted to legally end her pregnancy in Texas. She was known throughout the proceedings as Jane Roe but later was revealed to be Norma McCorvey, who died in 2017.
Though the Supreme Court ultimately decided three years after she filed her lawsuit that all women should have access to legal abortions, McCorvey had already been forced to carry her pregnancy to term, had given birth to Thornton and had let another family adopt her newborn. Thornton spent the first 19 years of her life without knowing McCorvey was her birth mother.
The excerpt from the book, “The Family Roe” by Joshua Prager, explores how Thornton came to discover she was the so-called “Roe baby,” her fraught relationship with McCorvey and her frustration with the anti-abortion movement using her existence to bolster its cause.
“My association with Roe started and ended because I was conceived,” Thornton tells Prager, whom she began communicating with in 2012.
Prager writes: “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.”
One incident that grew to bother her, Thornton says, was a 1989 article in the National Enquirer that described her as being “pro-life” ― a snippet that anti-abortion activists seized on. “This nineteen-year-old woman’s life was saved by that Texas law,” a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee said at the time.
When she found herself with an unplanned pregnancy in 1991, Thornton began to think more deeply about the issue.
“I guess I don’t understand why it’s a government concern,” she told Prager, saying she thought any abortion laws should not be influenced by religion and politics. Being described as “pro-life” in the Enquirer, she said, felt like being associated with “a bunch of religious fanatics going around and doing protests.”
The Atlantic’s excerpt comes as abortion bans dominate the news. Last week, a Texas law that effectively bans abortion after six weeks’ pregnancy and deputizes private citizens to enforce it went into effect despite arguments that it’s a clear violation of Roe v. Wade and other Supreme Court precedents.
Abortion rights activists are anticipating copycat laws sprouting up across dozens of other states whose legislatures are hostile to the procedure.
“This is rocket fuel in their engine,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told HuffPost last week.
The Supreme Court, now dominated by conservative justices, has also agreed to hear a case out of Mississippi concerning pre-viability bans on abortion. If the court decides in favor of the state, Roe v. Wade will effectively be overturned.
“The Family Roe” is scheduled for release on Tuesday.