cover image The Family Roe: An American Story

The Family Roe: An American Story

Joshua Prager. Norton, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-0-393-24771-8

Journalist Prager (The Echoing Green) reveals in this trenchant account the identity of the child at the center of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. After giving two previous children up for adoption, Dallas waitress Norma McCorvey (1974–2014) became pregnant for a third time and, under the pseudonym Jane Roe, challenged Texas’s ban on abortion in 1970. By the time the Supreme Court ruled on the case, however, McCorvey had already given birth to a daughter, who was adopted by a Texas couple. Prager profiles Shelley Lynn Thornton, as she’s now known, as well as the two other daughters born to McCorvey; Curtis Boyd, an abortion provider in Texas; Mildred Fay Jefferson, the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and a prominent antiabortion activist; and Linda Coffee, one of the attorneys who represented Jane Roe. The book excels in portraying McCorvey, a complicated woman “with an indifference to truth and a need for attention” who falsely claimed that her own mother sought to abort her, and who, in 1995, became an antiabortion advocate, a stance she later said was “an act.” Prager also places her life in the context of her family tree, which included “three generations redirected by unwanted pregnancy.” Nuanced, fine-grained, and gripping, this is a masterful study of the human lives behind a landmark case. (Sept.)