Despite her famous pseudonym, “Jane Roe,” no one knows the full truth about Norma McCorvey (1947–2017), whose unwanted pregnancy in 1969 became the center of the Supreme Court’s most enduringly divisive case and opened a great fracture in American life.
Journalist Joshua Prager’s new book The Family Roe: An American Story recounts her complete story for the first time, including an explosive revelation at the core of the case: McCorvey never had the abortion she’d sought in the Roe v. Wade suit. Born before the court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, “Baby Roe” was placed for adoption at birth, as were her two older half-sisters.
McCorvey’s firstborn, Melissa Mills, was the only of her children to be adopted within the family and witnessed her birth mother’s tumultuous life first-hand. She was adopted by her grandmother and until the age of nine was told that McCorvey was her older sister. Her two younger sisters, Jennifer Ferguson and Shelley Thornton—previously known to the public only as “Baby Roe”—would become adults before learning their birth mother’s identity.
Prager spent hundreds of hours with McCorvey, discovered her personal papers, which allowed him to find her birth children and bring the sisters together for the first time. Prager recounts each of their experiences in The Family Roe—from the difficult interactions with their birth mother, to their emotional first meeting just ten years ago.
The Family Roe offers “[a] prodigiously researched, richly detailed, sensitively told account of McCorvey’s strange, and very American, odyssey” (The New Yorker). Propelled by the crosscurrents of sex and religion, gender and class, this family saga tells the story of abortion rights in America, inviting us to view abortion not through politics but people.
Speaking publicly for the first time about her mother in The Family Roe, Melissa is available for speaking engagements, sharing her memories of her mother, her insights into McCorvey’s relationship to Roe, how unplanned pregnancies upended generations of her forebears, and the legacy of the historic ruling within their family.
Mills lives in Texas with her family, where she works in pediatric healthcare.Download The Family Roe's press kit here.