She finally disclosed her true identity. She finally admitted she had lied when she claimed a rape had caused the pregnancy that led to legalized abortion in America. She finally came to grips with being gay. And she finally made a career of helping women exercise their right to choose.
Norma McCorvey said more than once that--finally--she had found the kind of peace that had eluded her most of her life.
But just this month, she announced a stunning religious and political conversion: She became a “born-again” Christian and she allied herself with Operation Rescue, the staunchly antiabortion fundamentalist Christian group.
How the opposing sides in the abortion debate have dealt with the stunningly public “defection” of the woman who was Jane Roe in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion is a study in the art of the spin.
Those who favor abortion rights care fully refrain from criticizing McCorvey, 47. They say that her change of heart goes precisely to the issue of choice, and that they can’t condemn her for making one.
Those who oppose abortion have embraced McCorvey--there are no better advocates for any cause than former enemies--and have tried mightily to portray her as a victim of a cruel band of feminists who used her, then dumped her after she served her tragic purpose.
Your view will undoubtedly be defined by how you feel about abortion.
McCorvey, as most people know, was anonymous for many years after the Roe decision. She allowed herself to be identified in the early ‘80s to dispel rumors that Jane Roe was fictitious. But she continued to live in obscurity until 1987, when she appeared at a rally organized by the National Organization for Women to oppose the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork.
That must have been quite a coup for NOW at the time. And certainly, McCorvey’s recent “defection” has to be a big bonus for Operation Rescue.
Her new Operation Rescue friends have expressed tolerance toward McCorvey’s lesbianism, but say they hope she will renounce that “sin” too.
Who knows what McCorvey will embrace next?
I studied some of the scores of news stories about McCorvey over the years, searching for clues to her pro-life conversion. She traveled all over, appearing as a guest star at abortion rights rallies from one end of the country to the other. She seemed powerfully invested in her public role, referring many times to the Roe decision as “my law.”
At some point, I wondered, did she begin to soften her pro-choice words? Did she telegraph her switch?
June, 1989: I feel it is my duty to stay out there in the trenches to support Roe v . Wade and to support choice and to make sure these women get into the clinic as safely as they possibly can.
January, 1990: In the years before the Roe decision, millions of women had abortions and about 5,000 women died from them each year. . . . Obviously abortions will continue whether it is legal or not. I do not promote abortion. I do promote personal choice.
June, 1990: They [abortion rights leaders] didn’t recognize me as a public symbol because I hadn’t been out in the trenches long enough. But who in the hell do they think dug the first hole?
June, 1990: Now I know I can just be me [a lesbian] and I finally have a sense of peace.
August 8, 1995: I will be serving the Lord and helping women save babies. I will hold a pro-life position for the rest of my life.
August 10, 1995: They [abortion rights leaders] never gave me the respect I thought I deserved.
A private person is unwittingly thrust into a brilliant pool of light on the public stage: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man and becomes a symbol of the struggle for civil rights. Small-town firefighter Robert O’Donnell rescues baby Jessica from a well and becomes a symbol for American heroism.
Some folks, like Parks, adapt and flourish in quiet dignity. Some, like O’Donnell, who committed suicide last spring, grow so accustomed to the spotlight that they lose themselves when it dims.
Making the transition from private individual to public symbol is a strain no one should have to bear.
McCorvey’s troubles are well chronicled--from abuse and poverty to alcoholism. I suspect what she is after, at this point, is something she felt she did not get from the pro-choice movement: love, acceptance and respect.
A final quote, from Connie Gonzales, McCorvey’s longtime lover, on the occasion of McCorvey’s baptism and renunciation of abortion: For the first time, she felt at peace with herself.
Not for the first time, actually.
And maybe not for the last.