Identity of the Baby Behind Landmark Supreme Court Case Roe v. Wade Revealed Decades Later

Denise Vaque, Design Editor

In coordination with the release of a new book, “The Family Roe: An American Story” by Joshua Prager, the now-adult once known as “the Roe Baby,” has come forward to reveal her identity

Norma McCorvey had already given birth and placed two daughters for adoption when she discovered that she was pregnant with a third child in 1970. She filed the Roe lawsuit in March of that year, and although the courts ruled in her favor on Jan. 22, 1973, it became far too late for McCorvey the plaintiff who won the legal rights to abortions to get one herself. This led her to also give her third daughter up for adoption in Dallas, Texas in June of 1970.

Shelley Lynn Thornton, now 51 years old, learned as a teenager in 1989 that her biological mother was Norma McCornvey, a Dallas waitress whose lawsuit-turned-Supreme-Court-case legalized abortion across the country. Thornton grew up knowing she was adopted; however, she had not known of her own personal connection to the famous Supreme Court case.

The news broke when adoption investigator Toby Hanft informed Thornton of the shocking discovery. McCorvey, who had become pro-life and extremely religious in the 20 years between Roe and her reunion with her daughter, sent Hanft in search of the child she had given up. Similar to Hanft, McCorvey believed that publicity surrounding the reunion would bring support for the pro-life movement. Scared of the publicity, Thornton turned her biological mother away and chose to remain in the shadows rather than giving into the media circus that awaited her if she revealed her identity. 

Despite the news being published in a 1989 sensationalized interview between herself, Hanft and reporter Reggie Fitz with “The National Enquirer,” the story never received much attention as Thornton chose to remain anonymous. In the years that followed, the press continuously misrepresented her as pro-life due to her statement that she personally could never see herself having have an abortion. After she got pregnant at 20 and considered an abortion, but ultimately did not go through with it, she later clarified that she did not understand the government’s concern with the issue of abortions. However, she stayed strong on her stance that they were not a part of who she was.

Over the years, Thornton’s story faded out of the spotlight. Until recently, many did not even know that her mother, Norma McCorvey, never had the opportunity to receive an abortion or that the baby born had been made aware of her origins. As Texas’ six-week abortion ban incites a lawsuit from the Justice Department and possible adoption of similar heartbeat bills in other states, many look to Thornton who has chosen to come forward with her story.