She wanted an abortion but having one was illegal in her home state of Texas. Two young female attorneys challenged the law and the case wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where, on Jan. 22, 1973, a 7-2 decision by the justices made abortion legal in all 50 states.
McCorvey, who remained anonymous for several years until revealing she was Jane Roe, never had the abortion she sought, and instead gave birth to a girl who was given up for adoption.
Diane Silas, administrator of Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services, said that a woman's right to choose whether and when to have a baby directly correlates with the societal strides made by women and the opportunities available to women.
"I see it as essential," she said. "Women used to have 11, 12, 15 babies."
"It frees women from unwanted pregnancies," but also is about health and a manageable life, Silas said.
"To me it is absolutely clear that women can't make plans of any kind if they can't control their fertility," she said.
Neil Parrott, who with his wife April is involved in the organization Friends of Washington County disagreed with the idea that the right to have an abortion has helped advance women's rights.
"Roe v. Wade really took away, certainly those women that were in the womb, it certainly took away their rights," Parrott, of Hagerstown, said. "The gift of life, it's the government's job to protect this precious gift. There is no pursuit of happiness if we're aborting people."
Before the Roe v. Wade decision, a woman with an unwanted pregnancy who was determined not to give birth had choices - she could leave the country to have an abortion; could have an illegal abortion, a sometimes dangerous procedure; or could try to perform the abortion herself.
Silas said she previously worked with a doctor who recalled that in the days before Roe, gynecology wards were filled with women suffering from the effects of illegal abortions.
Now, a woman can take a "morning-after pill" to end her pregnancy or can have a surgical abortion - a procedure that takes about five to eight minutes.
The Web site for Potomac Family Planning Center, which has locations in Rockville, Md., and Washington D.C., indicates that a morning-after pill costs $50, while the cost for a surgical abortion ranges from $250 to $1,000, depending upon the length of the pregnancy and the type of anesthesia used.
Silas would not provide any data about the number of abortions performed at the Hagerstown clinic, but said that sometimes those who come in seeking service say they are opposed to abortion.
A dozen or more times a week, a woman who comes in seeking an abortion for herself or for her daughter will say she opposes abortion, but never imagined she or her daughter would be faced with an unwanted pregnancy, Silas said.
Parrott, whose wife is six months pregnant with the couple's third child, said that once conception happens "it's really undeniable" that it's a baby inside the womb.
He said he can lay his hand on his wife's belly and feel their baby moving. His wife can feel the baby hiccuping, Parrott said.
Abortion, he said, is oppressive to women in part because women who have abortions carry with them a sense of guilt.
"We have women who are walking around wounded, knowing that they did this," he said.
Parrott said that in some countries abortion is used as a means of birth control.
The idea of a woman being against abortion is not a contradiction, he said.
"The issue really is how could you not be pro-life? No one has the right to go around murdering people," Parrott said. "Why would anyone want to kill a baby? There are other options."