Who were Roe and Wade: The Women who Changed History

In the early 1970s, a landmark case called Roe v. Wade went to the Supreme Court of the United States. The case involved a young woman named Norma McCorvey (known as Jane Roe in court documents), who sought an abortion in Texas but was denied due to state law. The results of this case would go on to change the course of American history and become one of the most debated and controversial issues in the United States.

The Women Behind Roe v. Wade

The Roe v. Wade case had two primary women involved, Jane Roe and her attorney, Sarah Weddington. Both women played a critical role in changing the abortion laws in the United States.

Jane Roe

Jane Roe, whose real name was Norma McCorvey, was a 21-year-old woman from Texas when she found out she was pregnant. At the time, Texas law prohibited abortions except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. McCorvey attempted to obtain an abortion but was rejected by multiple physicians.

In 1970, McCorvey contacted the legal team of Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who agreed to represent her in a class-action lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas. Wade was responsible for enforcing the state law that prohibited abortions in most cases.

Sarah Weddington

Sarah Weddington was a 26-year-old law student when she agreed to represent Norma McCorvey in the Roe v. Wade case. Weddington argued that the Texas law that prohibited abortions in most cases was unconstitutional since it violated a woman’s right to privacy.

Weddington made history when the Supreme Court agreed with her argument and, in a landmark decision, struck down state laws that prohibited abortion. The Supreme Court decision came on January 22, 1973, and established a woman’s legal right to choose to have an abortion.

The Immediate Aftermath

The Roe v. Wade decision immediately became a highly controversial issue, with both sides of the abortion debate speaking out on the matter. Pro-choice advocates celebrated the decision as a significant step forward for women’s rights and reproductive health care. Anti-abortion activists saw the ruling as a grave moral and religious issue and have been fighting to overturn the decision ever since.

The Impact of Roe v. Wade

The Roe v. Wade decision had an enormous impact on American society, politics, and health care. The most significant outcome was that it legalized abortion and made it a safe and accessible medical procedure for millions of women in the United States.

Roe v. Wade helped increase access to reproductive health care services and led to a greater understanding of the need for reproductive rights. Specifically, it inspired advancements in contraceptive technologies and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, this decision led to a change in how people discussed issues around reproductive rights.

Despite the significant impact on society, Roe v. Wade continues to be a highly contentious issue in American politics and society. While the legal right to an abortion is settled, the ongoing debate is over the full scope of access to reproductive health care, including funding and availability of services.

The Legacy of Roe v. Wade

Since the Roe v. Wade decision, the abortion debate has continued to be one of the most divisive issues in American politics. The Court has also weighed in on future cases that have limited access to reproductive choice. And efforts to overturn Roe have become a key platform issue for many conservative politicians.

  1. In 1992, the Supreme Court decided on Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which reaffirmed the Roe decision but also resulted in making it easier for states to regulate abortion.
  2. In 2016, the Supreme Court decided in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and struck down parts of a Texas law that imposed restrictions on abortion clinics.
  3. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a Louisiana law, which required doctors who provide abortions to have active admitting privileges at a local hospital, is unconstitutional, in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo.

Myths and Facts

Myth: Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in the United States.

Fact: Prior to Roe v. Wade, some states already legalized abortion in some circumstances, however, the laws varied from state to state. Roe v. Wade ensured a woman’s legal right to choose no matter where they lived in the United States.

Myth: Women use abortion as a form of birth control.

Fact: Abortion is a complex decision made by a woman and her health care provider. Access to birth control is a key factor in decreasing unintended pregnancies and, therefore, reducing the need for abortion care. Women have abortions for a variety of reasons, including personal, financial, and medical reasons.

Myth: Abortion is an unsafe medical procedure.

Fact: Abortion is safe, and complications are rare. Many medical organizations have determined that abortion is a safe and common medical procedure, with similar or lower risks compared to other types of outpatient procedures.


The Roe v. Wade decision was a historic moment in the fight for women’s rights and access to reproductive health care. The ruling granted women the right to choose to have an abortion and increased access to reproductive health care. The future of Roe v. Wade remains unclear, but its legacy continues to impact political and social conversations about reproductive rights in the United States.


  • The New York Times, “Roe v. Wade Explained,” October 19, 2020. Available online at www.nytimes.com.
  • Guttmacher Institute, “Abortion in the United States,” September 2020. Available online at www.guttmacher.org.
  • Slate, “The Road to Roe,” January 22, 2013. Available online at www.slate.com.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: What did Roe v. Wade decide?
    • A: The Supreme Court found that the right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, legalizing the procedure in the United States.
  • Q: When was Roe v. Wade decided?
    • A: The case was decided on January 22, 1973.
  • Q: Who was Roe in Roe v. Wade?
    • A: Jane Roe was a pseudonym used for Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the court case.
  • Q: Can Roe v. Wade be overturned?
    • A: In theory, any Supreme Court ruling can be overturned. However, overturning Roe v. Wade would be a significant legal and political challenge that would require reinterpreting the Constitution.
  • Q: What is the future of Roe v. Wade?
    • A: The future of Roe v. Wade is uncertain, with many anti-abortion activists and politicians working to dismantle the legal protections afforded to reproductive rights. However, to date, the Supreme Court has declined to hear any cases that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

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