Federal court declines to reopen Roe v. Wade case despite plea

Saturday, June 21, 2003

DALLAS -- A federal district court dismissed a request by the one-time plaintiff known as "Jane Roe" to reconsider the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 30 years ago.

The court said late Thursday that Norma McCorvey's request wasn't made within a "reasonable time" after the 1973 judgment in Roe v. Wade.

McCorvey, who joined the anti-abortion fight 10 years ago, filed the "motion for relief from judgment" Tuesday, asking the court to reopen the case and conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into scientific and anecdotal evidence that she says shows abortion hurts women.

"Whether or not the Supreme Court was infallible, its Roe decision was certainly final in this litigation," Judge David Godbey wrote in the ruling. "It is simply too late now, thirty years after the fact, for McCorvey to revisit that judgment."

McCorvey's attorney, Allan Parker, said his client will likely ask the court to reconsider its ruling.

"This is not a case of newly discovered evidence, which must be brought in a short amount of time. It's a case of changed factual conditions and law," he said.

The change, Parker said, is a 1999 Texas law that allows the state to assume responsibility for unwanted children. Similar laws exist in other states.

Parker said one of the determining factors in the court ruling was the burden on women raising unwanted children, but since that factor no longer exists in many states, Roe v. Wade should be reconsidered.

Sarah Weddington, the abortion rights activist and attorney who originally represented McCorvey, said she was delighted but not surprised that McCorvey's request was dismissed.

"It never should have been filed," Weddington said Friday. "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."

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, Godbey wrote.

The Supreme Court decision came after McCorvey had her baby. It was the third child McCorvey put up for adoption; she was a 21-year-old carnival worker at the time.

She publicly identified herself as Jane Roe in 1980.

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