Roe V. Roe

By Waldman, Steven; Carroll, Ginny | Newsweek, August 21, 1995 | Go to article overview

Roe V. Roe


Waldman, Steven, Carroll, Ginny, Newsweek


Abortion: Norma McCorvey was a pro-choice poster girl--until she took up with Operation Rescue. She tells NEWSWEEK she's been tormented by the issue for years, and she hasn't `changed sides all the way.'

ON JUNE 22, NORMA MCCorvey awoke in the middle of the night and felt a spiritual presence. She tried to shake it off by getting a Coke. But when she sat down in the dining room, she fell the spirit pushing down on her, almost shoving her to the table. The presence, she concluded, was Evil. "I denounce you, Satan," she found herself declaring. "The Lord Jesus Christ is sitting right here. I banish you from my house." The relief was immediate. She slept until 11 the next morning.

Now, she says, maybe Satan will stop bothering her. With cameras clicking, McCorvey, known to most as the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, was baptized by Flip Benham, the flamboyant national director of Operation Rescue, the militant anti-abortion group. Around the country, pro-life leaders hailed the historic moment: the symbol of abortion rights had defected. Anchors on the "700 Club" TV show led their viewers in thankful prayer. "The poster child has jumped off the poster," said Bill Price, the head of the Dallas-based Texans United for Life.

But McCorvey's conversion is not quite what her new friends think it is. "I haven't changed sides all the way," she told NEWSWEEK in lengthy interviews last week. Although outraged by abortions performed late in pregnancy, she believes that they should be legal in the first three months, a view fundamentally at odds with Operation Rescue doctrine. In the end, she will probably fit no more comfortably with right-to-life activists than she did with the pro-choice side. "This is not pro-choice," she says of her philosophy. "It is not pro-life. It is pro-Norma."

McCorvey has for years been tormented, both by her decision to seek an abortion in 1969 and by her special role in history. She has alternately craved anonymity and attention. She has used the abortion issue to craft an identity far grander than she could have imagined, and she in turn has been used--by pro-choice advocates, the media, Hollywood and now the right-to-life movement. Her personal journey has been painful and messy. In other words, she truly is a symbol of the abortion issue.

When lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee asked her in 1969 to become the plaintiff in their class-action suit, McCorvey had to confront a breathtaking paradox: to help win the right for abortion, she couldn't have one. (If she weren't pregnant, she'd have no legal standing to demand an abortion.) So McCorvey carried the pregnancy to term. A hospital nurse, not realizing that McCorvey intended to place the baby for adoption, handed it to her. McCorvey held the daughter she had tried to abort. From that day, she felt conflicted about abortion. "I got to thinking, `Is it true what people are saying that abortion is killing babies? Is it true?'" She remained anonymous in part because she felt so guilty. Her mother, virulently anti-abortion, kept asking how she could sleep at night, knowing she'd been "murdering little babies." McCorvey would drink herself to sleep, she says, only to be haunted by nightmares of live infants being carved up in front of her.

Starting around 1984, a decade after the Supreme Court decision, she began slowly to acknowledge that she was Jane Roe. She gave a few interviews about the case, even claiming she'd been impregnated during a gang rape. Her picture began appearing in newspapers and she was surprised at how supportive people were once she got outside Dallas. She began to feel comfortable with what she'd done. She concluded that a woman should have the right to an abortion -- not so much because of the abstract principle of choice but because she thought there were too many unwanted children in the world. "I thought about these poor children who I've personally seen parked in front of just dives "hungry, dirty, neglected and abused. …

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