Jim Beam column:Who was Roe? Who was Wade?

Published 8:15 am Thursday, July 7, 2022


A couple of excellent sources explained it well. One was the National Constitution Center that unites America’s leading scholars to explore the text, history, and meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The other is Subscript Law that calls itself “the trusted legal marketing team.” 

Norma L. McCorvey of Texas discovered that she was pregnant in June 1969, and it was to be her third child. However, she wanted to have an abortion. Texas had a law at the time that only allowed abortion in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. 

McCorvey attempted to have an illegal abortion, but authorities had shut down the facility. So she hired an attorney seeking advice on what to do next. He assisted her in beginning the process of putting her child up for adoption and referred her to two recent women graduates of the University of Texas Law School.


The graduates filed a lawsuit on McCorvey’s behalf (who went by the alias “Jane Roe” throughout the case to protect her identity) against Henry Wade, the attorney general of Texas. The suit claimed the Texas law violated Roe’s constitutional rights. 

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas agreed and ruled the law violated Roe’s right to privacy found in the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution. 


Texas appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in 1970. Arguments began on Dec. 13, 1971. 

The Constitution Center said Jay Floyd, who was representing Texas in the case, opened his argument with what commentators have described as the “worst joke in legal history.” 

Floyd said of the two female attorneys, “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court. It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”


The rest of the case was argued that day but was reargued Oct. 11, 1972. Floyd was replaced for those arguments. The court issued its opinion on Jan. 22, 1973, saying the First, Fourth, Ninth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution protect an individual’s “zones of privacy.” 

Those zones based on earlier cases included activities like contraception, marriage, child-bearing, and abortion. So the court concluded a woman had a fundamental right to the procedure. 

The court said that, during the first trimester, the abortion decision was left to the woman and her doctor. However, after that the state could regulate the procedure. 

McCorvey had a surprising change of heart and started a pro-life organization in 1997 called “Roe No More.” It tried in 2003 to try to have Roe v. Wade overturned but was unsuccessful. 

The Roe v. Wade decision never made the front page of the American Press on Jan. 23, 1973. The banner headline that day was about the final tribute to be paid to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who died a day earlier at age 64. 

A story on Page 8 said reaction to the abortion ruling was mixed. John Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia, the highest-ranking Catholic prelate in the United States, called the decision “an unspeakable tragedy.” He added, “It is hard to think of any decision in the 200 years of our history that has had more disastrous implications for our stability as a civilized society.” 

Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans, the state’s highest Catholic prelate, condemned the decision. He said it “will inevitably lead to the point where the government will decide who shall be allowed to live and who must die for the ‘good’ of society.” 

A state representative in Texas liked the ruling, saying she was “very pleased because of the impact this decision will have on the lives of the many women who in the past have suffered…” 

Another important decision in this country’s history occurred a day after the Roe v. Wade ruling. Then-President Richard Nixon announced during a Tuesday night, Jan. 23, TV-radio address to the nation that a negotiated peace would end on Jan. 27 what was then “America’s longest war” in Vietnam.