Her Case Legalised Abortion in the US. She Is the Very Symbol of the Pro-Choice Movement. but Now `Jane Roe' Has Switched Sides. She Tells Daniel Jeffreys Why
Jeffreys, Daniel, The Independent (London, England)
Norma McCorvey is just back from church. "I feel like a different person now," she says in a thick Texan accent. "Now I feel I have some respect." That seems to be what McCorvey has sought all her life. In drugs, in bad relationships, in alchohol. Yet for more than 20 years McCorvey was a heroine, a poster girl, one of the most prominent in America. Norma McCorvey is Jane Roe of Roe vs Wade, the lawsuit that legalised abortion in America in 1973. Her case was as famous as the OJ Simpson trial and far more significant.
Now Norma has had a change of heart. On 10 August Jane Roe repudiated the pro-choice movement and became a born-again Christian. At the same time she announced she would be working with Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group founded by Randall Terry and Phillip "Flip" Benham. "The pro-choice poster girl has jumped off the poster, into the arms of Jesus Christ," says Benham, who has just brought McCorvey back from church. "Miss Norma has answered our prayers."
For pro-choice activists, McCorvey's defection was an unimaginable blow. But the relationship between McCorvey and the women's movement has always been ambivalent. Her defection now seems to have as much to do with that as the politics of abortion. Here was an insecure working-class woman who apparently felt disrespected by the middle-class leaders of the abortion rights movement from the moment of their first meeting.
"I know I'm not the world's brightest," says McCorvey from Flip Benham's noisy kitchen. "But I do have a brain, not that anybody in pro-choice really thought that. I kinda got the impression they thought I was stupid. I think they would much rather have had someone like them as their Jane Roe."
The irony is they could have had Sarah Weddington, the lawyer from a good family who took Roe vs Wade all the way to the Supreme Court and won. Weddington had an abortion four years before Roe vs Wade. Unlike Norma McCorvey, she had the money and knowledge to find a clean abortion clinic in Mexico. The clinic was just across the Texan border and was designed to get round US laws.
"She could've told me that," says McCorvey. "She kept that from me and I still don't forgive her and I never did have an abortion." McCorvey says she still remembers the night she first met Weddington and her colleague, Linda Coffee. "It was in Colombo's, a pizza joint, nothing fancy. They looked so out of place in their neat suits and combed hair. I sat down and felt nervous, I don't think they'd ever spoken to somebody like me before. Eventually, I asked Sarah where I could get an abortion. She said she didn't know. That was a damn lie and she knew it, but she needed me to be pregnant, so she could have a case to fight and I was too dumb to know she wasn't telling the truth."
By the time Weddington triumphed in Roe vs Wade it was too late for McCorvey to have an abortion; her mother adopted the baby girl. Twenty years later McCorvey was not invited to the anniversary party for Roe vs Wade, held at the White House. She says she cried most of that night and got drunk.
The radical lawyer Gloria Allred first met McCorvey at a pro-choice rally called to defend Roe vs Wade. Allred eventually became McCorvey's lawyer after the relationship between Weddington and McCorvey broke down. "I didn't realise Jane Roe was a real person until I met her at that rally," Allred says. "She was sobbing at the side of the stage and I asked if she needed help. She said she was crying because she was Jane Roe and the leaders of the rally had told her she couldn't speak to the crowd."
Despite these humiliations, McCorvey stayed loyal to pro-choice until this year. By July last year she had become the marketing director at a Dallas abortion clinic called A Choice for Women. The clinic had been picketed to the point of siege by Operation Rescue. McCorvey screamed abuse at the pickets and called them "vultures" on local television. …