Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program


This thesis explores the evolution of Norma McCorvey (1947-2017), better known as “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, as a symbol of the United States abortion debate. I trace her life from her childhood through her death, examining her decision to become the Roe plaintiff, rise to fame as a symbol of the pro-choice movement, defection to the pro-life movement, subsequent attempts to reverse the Roe decision, and memorializations by various political figures and media outlets. I examine the role that her poverty, education, non-normative sexuality, and whiteness played in the public construction of her as an unreliable figurehead. To make sense of her unconventional political trajectory as well as the spetacularizing media attention she drew over the course of her life, I engage with journalistic and scholarly writing about her, her two co-authored memoirs, and audiovisual representations of her life and activist work. Ultimately, I contest the caricaturization of McCorvey as “the ultimate victim,” a financial opportunist, and “white trash” by contextualizing the challenges she faced due to her class, sexuality, and the shifting rhetoric on abortion between 1970-2017.