The news that Norma McCorvey--"Jane Roe" in Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that liberalized abortion law--had switched from support of abortion to opposition to it is a welcome development and underscores a general trend in the American population, said Father Frank A. Pavone.
"What has happened to her is happening to many abortion providers and to even more people in the general public," Father Pavone, a priest of the archdiocese and national director of Priests for Life, told CNY. "People do not move from a pro-life to a pro-abortion position. Overwhelmingly the flow of movement is in the opposite direction."
Ms. McCorvey's involvement in the nation's most important abortion case began in Dallas in 1970 when she was seeking an abortion and met two lawyers who were looking for a plaintiff to test Texas' abortion laws. Under their guidance, Ms. McCorvey sued to contest the abortion prohibition and lost, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision Jan. 22, 1973, and ruled that abortion was legal in all 50 states. Ms. McCorvey remained an anonymous figure until the late 1980s when she announced her identity, revealed that she had never been raped, as she had testified in the original case, and that she had gone through with the pregnancy and given up the baby girl for adoption.
News of Ms. McCorvey's change of camps was announced last week, when she was baptized in a Houston suburb Aug. 8 by the Rev. Philip Benham, national director of Operation Rescue. She had developed a friendship with Rev. Benham, a Protestant minister, after Operation Rescue moved into the same Houston building where she worked as marketing director at an abortion facility. The pro-life group had moved out of its former Houston office after losing a legal suit to Planned Parenthood and having its assets seized.
Following many discussions with Rev. Benham, Ms. McCorvey resigned her job with the abortion facility and is now a file clerk for Operation Rescue. She has said that abortion is "killing," and it is "wrong." She also said she will not take part in rescues, though.
In a media interview shortly after announcing her change of mind, Ms. McCorvey, 47, was quoted as saying that a woman has a right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, especially if the unborn baby has birth defects. The large majority of abortions take place within the first three months.
Father Pavone said, however, that Ms. McCorvey's views were misrepresented. He said Operation Rescue leaders in Dallas who were influential in her conversion informed him that she favors abortion in the first three months only in the case of severe birth defects.
The reaction of pro-life advocates to Ms. McCorvey's announcement was positive but cautious. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who went from being one of the nation's leading abortion providers to an ardent pro-life advocate and is now preparing to be baptized a Catholic (see sidebar), called Ms. McCorvey's change in position "the hand of God working again."
He told CNY he hopes that Ms. McCorvey will mature in her pro-life views and find peace in her often unstable and tumultuous life. She has described herself as a former drug and alcohol abuser and an abused wife who is now in a lesbian relationship.
Christopher T. Slattery, director of Expectant Mother Care in Manhattan, told CNY, ''I'm thrilled, but I'm hoping she's treated with dignity and not just used by the media or some people in the pro-life movement. I hope also we will see a complete conversion over time to a pro-life position."
He added, "Rather than focus on one person who has been exploited by the pro-abortion movement and came to realize who her real friends are, I would like to see this as an opportunity for the media to do a more in-depth study on how the abortion industry is hurting women every day—both those who get abortions and those who work at abortion mills."
When she first heard the news about McCorvey, Elisa DiSimone, president of the Staten Island Right to Life Committee, thought, "What a great T-shirt, 'Even Jane Roe Is Pro-Life,'" she told CNY.
She said that she hoped Ms. McCorvey would now have the courage to lead a movement to have Roe vs. Wade overturned.
"That would be a powerful witness," she said. The court accepted Ms. McCorvey's testimony in 1973 under an assumed name and should now listen to her speaking in her own name, she explained.
When Father Pavone first heard reports months ago that Ms. McCorvey was meeting with Operation Rescue officials, he thought, "Well this is the beginning," he told CNY.
It was ironic, he said, that the pro-life group which is often wrongly associated with violence, insensitivity and harassment would offer Ms. McCorvey the love and acceptance she never found among abortion supporters.
He has seen other examples of this in his travels throughout the nation, he said. A woman who ran six abortion facilities in Alabama and Mississippi was befriended by a married couple outside her Birmingham facility and eventually was baptized a Catholic on Easter 1994 and is involved in pro-life work. Another example, he said, was a head nurse at a Minneapolis abortion facility who became friends with a man who prayed outside the building and in the course of a few years was won over to the pro-life position.
Reacting to Ms. McCorvey's defection from the abortion rights camp, Sarah Weddington, a Texas lawyer who represented her before the Supreme Court, told Associated Press, "What really matters is what the judges on the Supreme Court think, what people in elected office think and what average citizens think...and I don't think this news about Jane Roe will change one mind."
But in an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Weddington said, ''I'm shocked. At a time when we are working so hard to campaign for people who are pro-choice and not having much luck, I didn't need this one."