By Kevin Burke, LSW and Theresa Burke, Ph.D.
February 18th marks the five year anniversary of the death of Norma McCorvey, the woman known as the “Jane Roe” in the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe V Wade that legalized abortion in the U.S.
In May 2020 news reports questioned Norma’s later conversion to the prolife movement. A number of prominent prolife advocates who knew Norma for many years challenged these reports.
But there is a lesser known story that reveals a key dynamic that helped empower the drive to legalize abortion, and later promote the procedure across our nation. At the epicenter of the movement to legalize the procedure, you will find a woman wounded by her own personal experience of abortion loss.
Let’s travel back in time to Norma’s meeting with a young Texas Lawyer named Sarah Weddington.
Crossing the Border of Abortion
In 1969, attorney Sarah Weddington approached a desperate and pregnant Norma McCorvey. Norma already had 2 children and a failed marriage, with a family history of abuse and addiction. Norma was unable to get an abortion of her third child due to Texas abortion law.
Over a pizza lunch Norma signed the paperwork making her the plaintiff “Jane Roe” in the infamous abortion suit against the State of Texas. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and legalized abortion in the United States.
What is less known, is how Sarah Weddington’s own abortion, years before Roe V Wade, played a central role in opening the door to a decision that led to the death of now over 65 million children.
In 1967 Sarah and her boyfriend Ron Weddington, both law students at the time, were facing an unplanned pregnancy. They did not want any disruption of their educational goals.
Abortion was illegal in Texas. So in the fall of 1967 Sarah and Ron drove south to Eagle Pass, Texas, crossed the border and entered a small clinic in the Mexican town of Piedras Negras.
In her memoir “A Question of Choice”, Sarah, upon waking after the procedure thought, “I hope I don’t die, and I pray that no one ever finds out about this.” Sarah and Ron married the following year.
For 25 years their abortion remained a dark secret that was not shared with family or friends. Only in the writing of “A Question of Choice” did she finally open up about her own abortion. Weddington’s autobiography presents Sarah as a serious woman with workaholic tendencies. Sarah and Ron would later divorce.
Abortion Advocacy and Complicated Grief
Abortion is not a normal experience of loss. It is often a closely guarded secret. Remember Sarah Weddington’s first thoughts immediately after the procedure; “I pray that no one ever finds out about this.”
This reveals a natural sense of shame and desperation about her experience– and a need to keep this shameful event a secret. Pro-choice feminist will claim this is because of abortion stigma associated with the procedure.
But even when abortion is tragically felt to be the “best option or decision” and validated by friends and family, there are often feelings of confusion, shame and guilt when you disrupt the very natural process of pregnancy.
Some women and men deny and repress their natural feelings after abortion by total immersion in educational and career pursuits. Some report an increase in various addictions, anxiety/depression, sleep disturbance, relationship difficulties and other ways the complicated pain and grief after abortion is both repressed and expressed.
Others discover a vocation in abortion rights activism.
Those with previous abortion loss, and consumed with the fight to expand and validate abortion rights, are continually repressing any negative feelings and memories of their own abortion experience.
This powerful emotional energy is directed into what they and others see as a noble and just cause. Any feelings of anger and pain from their abortion experience are channeled into activism, and displaced onto the enemies of choice.
Pro Choice feminists like Michelman, Steinem and lawyer Sarah Weddington re-enact and re-validate their own unhealed abortion losses by “empowering” other women to make the same “choice” as they did.
“I discovered I was pregnant and I had just landed my dream job as a TV Talk Show Host. A roommate drove me to an abortion clinic in Greensboro, N.C. After graduation, I threw myself into the new job creating a façade of the perfect young career girl who had it all together … drinking, drugging and sleeping around … self-destructing. Trying to validate my choices, I became a strong pro-abortion supporter and at times militant with anyone who didn’t agree with my opinion.”
The body remembers what the mind and heart deny and repress.
Many women and some men experience depression, anxiety and grief around the time of the anniversary of their abortion or on the actual due date of their child.
Norma McCorvey, (the Jane Roe of Roe V Wade) shared in a radio interview with Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life that her meeting in 1969 with Sarah Weddington, when the lawyer was trying to convince Norma to be a plaintiff, was held on the anniversary of Sarah’s illegal abortion in Mexico.
Hope and Healing
Abortion healing programs help women and men safely working through the painful feelings and memories of that experience. This enables them to develop a cohesive narrative out of the pain and chaos, the fragments of life often shattered in the aftermath – pain that can for a time be submerged in hyper-activity, pro-abortion activism, or drowned in addiction.
But in time, the center no longer holds, and the truth cries out for release. For those that embrace the call to reconciliation and healing, this is a blessed moment. For others, like Sarah Weddington, the denial becomes a lifestyle, a crusade to legalize the procedure that so deeply wounded them, emotionally, and spiritually.