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May 31, 2011

By: Joel Cohen

In 1970, Norma McCorvey instituted a class action lawsuit against the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas that led to what is still one of the most controversial U.S. Supreme Court decisions in history. One might not know that, though, because until she outed herself and bolted for the pro-life movement in her autobiography ("I am Roe"), she was just plain-vanilla "Jane Roe," the name plaintiff in Roe v Wade.

Indeed, without fanfare, Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing for the majority, dropped a simple footnote in the opinion saying "[t]he name is a pseudonym." For the world, Roe was thus identified merely as a pregnant single woman who simply didn't want her fetus to come to term and couldn't legally get an abortion in Texas. (And, as history would have it, she gave birth to that baby before the Supreme Court finally decided the case.)

Clearly, the pseudonymous description of McCorvey during the litigation undoubtedly made it easier for her -- given her then-view of abortion, which she later came to regret -- to litigate rather than creating the unwanted stigma that would have attached to her, particularly in those days, for "killing" her baby. There is no evidence that District Attorney Henry Wade, the pro-life movement, or anyone else tried to up the ante for McCorvey, and possibly inhibit or even intimidate the lawsuit, by seeking a court order directing that she be identified in the litigation by her true name.

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