Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff known as "Jane Roe" in the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, died Saturday. She was 69.
Joshua Prager, a journalist working on a book about the case, confirmed her death due to a heart ailment in Katy, Texas, to The Washington Post.
In the 1980s, McCorvey publicly identified herself for the first time as the plaintiff in the case to support the pro-choice movement, but later reversed course and spoke out on behalf of pro-life campaigners.
When she filed the lawsuit in Dallas, Texas, in 1970, she was unwed and poor, and wanted an abortion after becoming pregnant for the third time, Reuters notes.
According to Prager, McCorvey could not afford to travel to any of the six states where abortion was legal at the time: Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, and Washington. However, she never actually had the procedure.
In the 1990s, she converted to Christianity and began speaking out against abortion. She also served at Operation Rescue, a pro-life group.
"I'll be serving the Lord and helping women save their babies. I will hold a pro-life position for the rest of my life," McCorvey, who now sought to reverse the Roe v. Wade decision, had declared. "I think I've always been pro-life. I just didn't know it."
Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said he was "saddened" by the loss of McCorvey.
"She spent the better part of the last 25 years working to undo the terrible Supreme Court decision that bears her name. Her work was not in vain," he said. "Norma became an inspiration for so many, and we at Operation Rescue work every day to achieve her goal of ending abortion in America."
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Attorney Gloria Allred, who represented McCorvey in Roe v. Wade, said in a statement, "Even though at the end of her life Norma thought women should be prevented from having an abortion and that abortion should be criminalized, her legacy will be Roe v. Wade, which has provided millions of women the legal right to choose abortion."
McCorvey had admitted that she lied in the landmark case.
She claimed that the Roe pregnancy was the result of a rape, but in 1987 she said she had become pregnant "through what I thought was love," the Post notes, adding that the details of her account were legally unimportant in the case. "I told [a doctor] that I wanted an abortion, that I did not want to carry the child for economic reasons," she said at the time.
Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote in the Roe v. Wade ruling that women can abort until the point of viability "free of interference by the State," meaning until the fetus "has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb." The court also recognized a right to abortion after viability if necessary to protect the woman's life or health.
Since the ruling, perhaps 50 million legal abortions have been performed in the United States, although later court decisions and new state and federal laws have imposed restrictions, The New York Times says.
In her 1994 book, I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice, McCorvey wrote, "I wasn't the wrong person to become Jane Roe. I wasn't the right person to become Jane Roe. I was just the person who became Jane Roe, of Roe v. Wade. And my life story, warts and all, was a little piece of history."