Who Was “Wade”?

We’ve heard it for so long – and so often – that’s it’s almost like one word:



Roe v. Wade – the Supreme court’s 1973 landmark decision that made abortion legal in the United States.

And we’re going to be hearing a lot more about it:

Today the identity of the anonymous “Roe” in Roe v. Wade is no secret – she was Norma McCorvey, a Texas resident who, in early 1970, wanted a legal abortion and couldn’t get one. 

She connected with two attorneys, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who had a plan to legally challenge and overturn Texas’s restrictive abortion law in federal court.  They needed a plaintiff who wanted a legal abortion and could not afford to go to California or New York (where abortion was legal) to get one.

McCorvey, 1982.

McCorvey wanted her identity to remain hidden, so Coffee assigned Norma the pseudonym of “Jane Roe.”  Coffee and Weddington filed the class-action lawsuit in federal district court in March 1970.  From there, the case worked its way through the appellate process and eventually, the Supreme Court.

So she was “Roe.”

But – who was “Wade”?

Wade is also no secret – but I, and I’m betting many people, had no idea who or what she or he was.

He was Henry Wade (1914-2001), the district attorney of Dallas County where McCorvey lived.  Coffee and Weddington named Wade as the defendant in McCorvey’s case because he enforced a law that prohibited abortion.

This 2018 Washington Post article…

…had some insightful things to say about Wade.

Coffee, 1972.

Regarding Roe v. Wade, the article says that “America has forgotten (or never knew) that Wade mostly shrugged his shoulders at the whole thing”; that “he never showed any personal animosity toward abortion”; and quoted from David J. Garrow’s book, Liberty and Sexuality:

“[after the decision was announced, Wade] ‘made no comments to the press’ about a case he ‘had never taken any personal interest in,’ despite the fact that it ‘bore his name.’  He did privately acknowledge later in life that ‘in some cases abortion is justified.’”

Weddington, 1972.

Two attorneys had found their plaintiff, who happened to live in Dallas County.  Wade happened to be the county’s district attorney.

A plaintiff in a different county or state, and Wade’s name would never have been attached to “perhaps the most controversial Supreme Court decision in U.S. history.”

There’s a quote from Shakespeare that speaks of greatness, and how some have “greatness thrust upon them.”

I’d say that Henry Wade had fame thrust upon him – whether he wanted it or not.

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