Roe v. Wade baby revealed to be Shelley Lynn Thornton

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Roe v. Wade baby revealed to be Shelley Lynn Thornton

The child at the center of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that established a woman’s right to abortion, has come forward after decades of secrecy.

Shelley Lynn Thornton, 51, has revealed herself as the youngest daughter born to Norma McCorvey, whose lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion, according to journalist Joshua Prager’s book, “The Family Roe: An American Story.”

“Secrets and lies are, like, the two worst things in the whole world,” Thorton told Prager in an excerpt of the book published in The Atlantic on Thursday.

Her biological mother had been 22, unmarried, unemployed, and pregnant with her third daughter in 1969 when she sought to have an abortion in Texas, where the procedure was illegal except to save a woman’s life.

Norma McCorvey, who went under the pseudonym "Jane Roe", during the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Norma McCorvey, who went under the pseudonym “Jane Roe”, during the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images
Melissa Mills, the eldest of Norma McCorvey's daughters speaks out after her sister Shelley Lynn Thornton is revealed to be the center of the Roe V. Wade case.
Melissa Mills, the eldest of Norma McCorvey’s daughters speaks out after her sister Shelley Lynn Thornton is revealed to be the center of the Roe V. Wade case.
CBS TODAY

McCorvey mounted a legal challenge against Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade — though by the time she won, she had already given birth and put her daughter up for adoption.

Thornton grew up knowing that she had been adopted, but she and her adoptive family weren’t aware of her connection to the famous case until a National Enquirer investigation led to her being tracked down as a teenager, according to the excerpt.

She began “shaking all over and crying” when she found out the truth about her birth mother — whose life had been portrayed in a TV movie that she had briefly caught, according to the excerpt.

Norma McCorvey (right) during Pro-Choice Rally, July 4, 1989 in Burbank, California.
Norma McCorvey (right) during Pro-Choice Rally, July 4, 1989 in Burbank, California.
Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

“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,” Thornton said.

Still, she considered meeting McCorvey. But she had concerns about a public reunion.

“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 said.

Joshua Prager's book, "The Family Roe: An American Story," initially made the claim that Shelley Lynn Thornton is indeed the child that started Roe v. Wade.
Joshua Prager’s book, “The Family Roe: An American Story,” initially made the claim that Shelley Lynn Thornton is indeed the child that started Roe v. Wade.

The tabloid ended up running a story that didn’t name her, but identified her as a pro-life teenager.

Thornton said that in reality, her own views about abortion were more complicated.

When she became pregnant at age 20, Thornton decided to have the baby. She said she understands why whether she should have an abortion should be “a government concern,” but determined that the procedure was “not part of who I was,” according to the excerpt.

“I knew what I didn’t want to do,” she said of her first child, a son. “I didn’t want to ever make him feel that he was a burden or unloved.”

Thornton, now a mother of three living in Arizona, never ended up meeting her biological mother, but came close in 1994 before they got into a heated phone call where Thornton said McCorvey told her she should have thanked her for giving birth to her.

“I was like, ‘What?! I’m supposed to thank you for getting knocked up … and then giving me away?’” Thornton recalled saying. “I told her I would never, ever thank her for not aborting me.”

McCorvey, who later became an evangelical Christian and joined the anti-abortion movement, died of heart failure in 2017 at age 69.

Thornton said that she’s telling her story now to relieve herself of decades of secrecy — and do it on her own terms.

“I want everyone to understand that this is something I’ve chosen to do,” she said.

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