More than a quarter of a century ago, in January 1973, Norma McCorvey became one of the most influential figures in American history-except nobody knew who she was. She was naive, uneducated, poor and pregnant, with a baby she didn't want.
She was exactly the type of woman who could be manipulated into believing that giving a woman the right to choose an abortion was consonant with a woman's right to vote, to buy property, to choose her career, even to smoke. If a woman had all these rights, why couldn't she have the right to choose to end an unwanted pregnancy? All the other rights involved "choices."
It was not until more than a decade later that it was revealed that Norma McCorvey was the anonymous Texas woman named "Jane Roe," whose bid to obtain an abortion led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America.
In the years since Roe vs. Wade, McCorvey's life story has had something of a prodigal quality about it. The circumstances of her life leading up to Roe VS. Wade are now widely known, having been the subject of books and television shows. She also authored two books: "I Am Roe," currently out of print, and "Won by Love" (Thomas Nelson, $20).
Out of a troubled upbringing she grew into a troubled life - a thief, a runaway, an alcoholic, a drug addict. She had two children with two men before becoming pregnant with a third and seeking the abortion that led her to become the representative figure in Roe vs. Wade. (Although the high court used her case to legalize abortion, that ruling came long after she had carried the child to term.)
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, McCorvey's life, because of her notoriety as Roe, continued to careen about. First, she was the "pro-choice" poster girl, trotted out to share stages with militant abortion advocates, and signing book and movie deals to tell her story. Later, she worked at two abortion clinics. She has come to clearly believe that she was exploited by both the original lawyer who took her case to the Supreme Court, and by abortion advocates in the years since Roe vs. Wade.
Three years ago, in August 1995, she made a startling announcement: She was baptized a Christian by the arch-foe of abortion, the Rev. Flip Benham, head of Operation Rescue. This past January, she was standing with the pro-life side in demonstrations marking the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that she once called, proudly, "my law." On Aug. 17, in still another twist, McCorvey announced she was received into the Catholic Church.
In a recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor, she described her decision to seek instruction and entrance into the Church as a "coming home." And she's glad to be home.
Well aware of her role in the abortion movement -that of being used - McCorvey explained that the attorneys in the Roe vs. Wade case, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, had a hidden agenda - to legalize abortion-on-, demand and advance the Equal Rights Amendment. McCorvey recalls the companion Supreme Court case Doe vs. Bolton: "Sandy [ Mary Doe] was just trying to get her children back. It was a conspiracy to get abortion-on-demand ' It was, after all, one of the last straws to get either case to the United States Supreme Court to be even recognized. They weren't getting anywhere with that [ERA]; so why not challenge a woman's right to choose without the ERA? They saw an opening for women to hopefully get the ERA passed by getting abortion-on-demand."
Jane Roe, the poster girl for Ivy League feminists, scarcely knew what the ERA was. Nor did she know specifically what the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and 14th Amendments were. Yet Jane Roe claims that she was being denied these rights by not being able to obtain a legal abortion.
"Coming home" has allowed McCorvey to view the actions of her onetime attorneys in a different light. "It's just a matter of forgiving them," she says. But she still puts them in serious company: "All of them who were involved with the 'conspiracy,' acting like Hitler did with the Jews ... [were] convinced that by getting abortion-on-demand they could control the world ... forcing states which did not allow abortion-on-demand to strike down their laws because they could say it's a constitutional right."
Although women's rights were unknown to Jane Roe, they became important to Norma McCorvey in 1989, when her house was shot at because she was a feminist and an advocate of women's rights. She also advocated abortion as a way to deal with unwanted children so that they wouldn't be abused.
The first turning point for McCorvey was after she had given a pro-abortion talk and a woman thanked McCorvey for her abortions. McCorvey asked the woman how many she'd had and the woman replied, "10 or 11. I lost count. Oh, well." This testimony forced McCorvey to consider exactly what her "law" had brought about.
On her way "home," her view on women's rights has changed considerably, and she sees abortion as an exploitation of those rights. She said: "I say this from a woman's point of view. Women should have the right to do as any other, but this does not give them the right to act as their own god and choose death for their children."
What does it mean to McCorvey to be "home" in the Catholic Church? She feels closer to God at Mass than she did in her Protestant worship services. "Catholics," she said, "are closer to each other, and closer to God."
She started praying the Rosary after reading a book that had been given to her, and she found that it "felt good." Her rosary and devotional medals, she quips, "are like my American Express; I never leave home without them."
McCorvey has no qualms about the structure of the Church. "The Pope is ordained by God to look over His people," she said. "Without him, there's no Church." She extends this line of thought to explain that since the Catholic Church is the first Church, the Church founded by Jesus, it must be the Church that everyone should follow.
She points out that her becoming Catholic does not mean that she is rejecting Protestantism or that she thinks any church is better than any other, because moving from one denomination to another has not changed much for Norma McCorvey. It's the relationship with God that she seeks. "This [the Catholic Church] is just the path to make me strong, " she said.
Her story is far from being fully told. For many, her conversion to the cause of life is an almost providential sign of reassurance that the war against abortion is not futile, despite the militancy of U.S. law and court decisions. McCorvey is convinced that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. She now devotes her time to this effort and has co-founded an organization called "Roe No More."
For others still, her journey to the faith is a powerful symbol of hope for all women who have been victims of abortions and the abortion culture. Jane Roe is on the road less taken in a prodigal fife, and she is almost home.
Solenni writes from Rome