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Different Paths For Roe And Attorney

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AP
Today, the two women who together were the force behind the historic case Roe v. Wade are on different sides of the issue. CBS News National Correspondent Thalia Assuras looks at how their lives have changed since that historic date and at the still-controversial decision.

"I found myself pregnant for the third time (the second time out of wedlock)," says Norma McCorvey, "Jane Roe."

"I heard her distress in her situation. She had had a rocky life. It was a class action though and it was for all women," says Sarah Weddington, attorney for "Jane Roe."

"I wanted it to be a legal choice. Yes. I did not want to have an illegal abortion," McCorvey says.

Back on Jan. 22, 1973 CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite reported, "In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court today legalized abortion."

Two women and nine justices of the highest court in the land together changed women's lives. No longer was abortion illegal anywhere in the United States. It was a private choice upheld by the Constitution.

"I know when my obituary is written, no matter what else I do, the head will be 'Roe v. Wade attorney,'" says Weddington.

Then 26-year-old attorney Weddington had never contested a case, let alone faced the Supreme Court. But her commitment to her cause was both personal —

"I had had an illegal abortion in my last year of law school."

— and a matter of principle.

"I always thought women should have all options. To continue the pregnancy, put up a child for adoption, keep it, have an abortion, that that should be her decision," Weddington says.

In the case, originally filed in Dallas, "Jane Roe" was really 22-year-old Norma McCorvey. Before the court could make its landmark decision, she had already delivered her baby and given the child up for adoption.

How did she feel about being Jane Roe?

"I didn't like it. It scared me. I had known instinctively that I had done something wrong that I thought was right and I was very ashamed of it," McCorvey says.

And with that McCorvey and Weddington began to take divergent paths.

In the late 80s and early 90s, McCorvey made occasional appearances in support of abortion rights and worked for a few years in abortion clinics. She converted in the mid 90s to fundamental Christianity before becoming a Catholic. She's a regular churchgoer and her Web site attracts a flock of admirers who find comfort.

She has a Web site called "Roe No More Ministry" where she answers questions.

"I am on what I call the right side of the movement now, because I am fighting for life instead of death," McCorvey says.

For her part, Weddington has stayed the abortion rights course, through her work as an attorney, a Texas state legislator and an advisor to at least one president.

Thirty years later, she says she would not have believed that she would still be fighting this same battle. "That's the big surprise to me of the whole thing, that 30 years later we are still talking about it. I really thought the opinion had been written in concrete," she says.

Weddington now calls it sandstone.

Over the years, the ruling that has come to be known as Roe v. Wade has unleashed a range of emotions, sometimes violent — abortion clinics have been bombed and doctors killed — and sometimes peaceful, with rallies and marches.

Meanwhile, states chipped away at the law too, through new Supreme Court challenges.

"Roe v. Wade has gradually been reduced not by single blows, but by a thousand paper cuts," says constitutional attorney Jonathan Turley.

There have been restrictions on services and on funding to clinics, hampering women who couldn't afford an abortion. Some states required parental consent.

Many predict that Roe v. Wade will be overturned in this decade. With a number of justices likely to retire and a White House with a conservative agenda, there could be a very different bench making the decision.

"What's different is that we have a president who may be the most pro-life president of my lifetime. If Roe were to fall, we would have what is a national debate break into a 50-states debate," Turley says.

The anniversary has re-focused national attention on the issue. Both sides have launched new ad campaigns.

An anti-abortion ad from Faith 2 Action says "America. It's time to protect your children again," while an abortion rights NARAL commercial has one woman saying: "Who decides? I do." Another adds "I do," as does a third.

And the two women who once made history together?

McCorvey says she wants Roe v. Wade overturned. "Yes, I hope so; I pray so."

For Weddington her wish would be that "we would simply accept the law of Roe v. Wade, that people would quit trying to legislate against it. I wish it could be just written in concrete and we could go on and work on other issues," she says.

Thirty years later, the history of Roe v. Wade is still being written and re-written.

It remains extremely emotional, too. Both sides were marking the anniversary with rallies in several cities Wednesday. There's a large anti-abortion rights rally in St. Louis and in Washington. Planned Parenthood was expected to be outside the Supreme Court in a counter-protest.