The dismissal by a federal district court in Texas of the effort by the plaintiff known as "Jane Roe" to reopen the landmark abortion ruling she won 30 years ago flickered only briefly on the wires. The plaintiff, whose real name is Norma McCorvey, had gone to court to win the right to an abortion. She gave birth to the child she had wanted to abort, and put the infant up for adoption. It was, the Associated Press noted in a dispatch from Texas on Friday, the third child she had put up for adoption. She was, it noted, a 21-year-old carnival worker at the time. In 1980, Miss McCorvey publicly identified herself as Jane Roe. After converting to Catholicism, she joined an effort called "Operation Rescue." She has become an outspoken figure in the prolife movement.
The motion she filed in the federal court in Texas where the case began 30 years ago was called a "motion for relief from judgment." She asked the court to reopen Roe v. Wade and, as the AP put it, conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into scientific and anecdotal evidence she says shows abortion hurts women. Miss McCorvey and her attorneys asked the federal court to consider more than 5,400 pages of evidence, including 1,000 affidavits from women who regret their abortions, in re-evaluating the Supreme Court's decision, according to the AP. In dismissing her request, Judge David Godbey declared that whether or not the Supreme Court was infallible, its Roe decision was "certainly final" in the litigation at hand. "It is," he wrote, "simply too late now, thirty years after the fact, for McCorvey to revisit that judgment."
A spokeswoman for the Texas Justice Foundation, which is representing Miss McCorvey, did not immediately return a message for comment. Sarah Weddington, the abortion rights activist and attorney who originally represented Miss McCorvey, was quoted by the AP as saying she was delighted, but not surprised Ms. McCorvey's request was dismissed. "It never should have been filed," Ms. Weddington said. "Those who filed it got publicity, but the publicity actually has been very helpful for those of us who believe the government should not be involved." Ms. Weddington said that since Miss McCorvey's motion was announced earlier this week in a press conference, according to the AP, she has received about two-dozen e-mails from people offering to help defend the Roe v. Wade decision.
As a general matter, federal law allows litigants to petition the court to reopen cases in extraordinary situations, but such requests must be made weeks or months after the judgment, not decades, Judge Godbey wrote. "A change of heart by the plaintiff is no more compelling than if I decided I wanted the decision overturned," a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, Robert Levy, told the Sun yesterday. Miss McCorvey was no doubt seeking to make a point not only in the court but in the battle for public opinion. While those in the movement seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade have long known of Miss McCorvey's conversion, others around the country were no doubt hearing for the first time that the very plaintiff who has become synonymous with unrestricted abortion rights has undergone such a conversion on the issue. It may well have shown many that the parameters of the abortion debate are not so set as it often seems.
The outright overturning of Roe v. Wade may be unlikely. The Court's respect for precedent, combined with its deference to legislative will, militates against such a change. But on certain points, the abortion law is in flux. Once the House and Senate reconcile their separate bills, President Bush is set to sign a ban on partial-birth abortion, though the law will provide exemptions to accommodate Jewish law and other religious imperatives that virtually require such an abortion when the life of the mother is at stake. For all those preparing to fight a new constitutional battle on the abortion front, it is something to think about that the regrets of Jane Roe are beyond mending in court.