Norma McCorvey was a simple soul who unwittingly, without a plan or goal or initial cause, became the central figure in one of the most divisive and consequential controversies of her time … and subsequent times. Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court in 1973, and she was “Jane Roe,” a pseudonym inspired by the familiar “John Doe,” which utterly failed to preserve her privacy or anonymity.
She rightly can be called a simple soul because she did not plot the challenge to America’s traditional rejection of legal abortion. As this 2005 interview reveals, she was approached by attorneys who were frank in treating her like a guinea pig. That she would become a symbol might have been anticipated, but their cynical disdain — she did not appear on the stand, even learning of the Supreme Court decision from news reports — was surprising.
Like a leaf in a stream, or pinball in a game, Norma McCorvey went through life in environments that recalled James Carville’s insulting characterization of impoverished white women. Her baby was illegitimate; the “fetus” around which Roe v. Wade raged was — to the likely surprise of many readers — not aborted, but delivered at term and given up for adoption. This republished interview will reveal Norma as a modest yet thoughtful player in a life whose strings were grabbed and pulled by others.
Norma became a Christian and actually established a ministry of support and outreach. By that time, unsurprisingly, she was not only ignored by her former advocates, but also dismissed, criticized, and even ridiculed by those who had waved her banner on the Left. Her ministry, Crossing Over, was largely a speaking program that saw her fight her shyness to take her message to almost every state and several foreign countries.
Nevertheless, she grew shyer and less bold, always that pinball in the games of Social Warriors. She never put aside all the remnants of being conflicted, and there were reports before her death in 2017 from a weak heart that she reversed herself again. She granted an interview claiming she gamed the system for almost 40 years, earning money to speak up for life.
Yet Norma had worked in abortion clinics and seen the gruesome procedures. She never allowed the abortion of her three babies. She fought her terminal shyness by meeting with thousands of anguished women. And Norma never became financially secure through her fledgling ministry work.
In 2005, I edited the Christian worldview magazine Rare Jewel for the publisher Tim Ewing. Attorney Allan Parker of the Justice Foundation was working with Norma at the time and was an ally of our magazine’s efforts to redeem the culture.
Allan Parker enabled this remote interview, and it is republished here in full.
As the Dred Scott decision ultimately was scrapped, the landmark case over the right to life and the discovery of unenumerated “privacy rights” was not settled law after all. The shock to the complacent proponents of Roe v. Wade is matched by the experience of answered prayers among those who worked tirelessly for its reversal.
Rick Marschall (RM)
Norma McCorvey (NM)
RM: Before the landmark lawsuit, before your involvement in the momentous issues of our time, what was life like for Norma?
NM: I was in my twenties, I was someone just getting by. I grew up caring for myself, moving from job to job, making ends meet. Early on, I began abusing drugs and alcohol. Essentially, my life was without direction and without purpose.
RM: Please tell the story of your role in the famous court decision–I’m sure you find that many people think you actually HAD an abortion…
NM: That is an interesting point. In fact, I never did have the abortion.
For me, this goes to the core of what was so wrong with the Roe decision. It had nothing to do with me, the actual person of the case. It was about advancing an ideological agenda. Had the case been about me, the two lawyers in the case, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, would have included me in the case.
I became involved in Roe v. Wade out of desperation, but I became Jane Roe because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. All of that doesn’t matter, however, because my role in the case then consumed my life and culminated in me working in numerous abortion clinics in Texas as a way to justify my involvement in the case. Little did I know, it would be at one of these abortion clinics that my life would drastically change.
RM: You say you were “used” by the pro-abortion lawyers. Why did they choose you? When did you “catch on” to them? – years later?
NM: I like to say that I could “out drink, out cuss, and out dance” anyone in Dallas. I was your typical ‘70s girl–my early twenties, drinking, partying, and experimenting, with little regard for the consequences.
So, it was in this context that two young lawyers I named, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, approached me as a young, pregnant, and desperate young woman. Unlike today, there were no crisis pregnancy centers; there were no other resources for me to utilize. As I reflect, I imagine that I was the “perfect candidate” for their struggle–I was poor and uneducated.
Weddington and Coffee convinced me that an abortion was appropriate but because of Texas state law, I was unable to have one. I agreed to help them fight for the reversal of the law prohibiting abortions in Texas.
Little did I know that the case would become the infamous court case, Roe v. Wade. Though I was touted as a symbol of everything women could gain by being free to choose an abortion, the real Jane Roe was an embarassment to the image that the Ivy League feminists tried so hard to project; as I say, I was uneducated, unskilled, a drug user, and an alcoholic.
Although I take responsibility for becoming involved in the case, I was, no doubt, a helpless pawn in a powerful game. This fact was solidified for me when, to my amazement, I was not asked to testify before the Supreme Court, nor did Weddington and Coffee want me to have anything to do with the case. They didn’t even call me upon news of the Supreme Court ruling. I found out about the decision like most Americans; I saw the headline in a local Dallas newspaper.
RM: As the case climbed up the ladder of the court system, how did you feel?
NM: It was a very tiring process and oftentimes I wondered whether it was the right thing to do. However, there was little for me to do. I simply signed the paper and the actual case required little of my personal time. I was never involved in the case as one would think a plaintiff would be involved. But the minute I walked out of my initial meeting with the two attorneys, I wondered whether it was the right thing to do. I thought that I had to do something, but I was never sure about my involvement in Roe v. Wade.
RM: Besides the two lawyers, were there other people pushing you to get as involved as you did, or join the abortion crusade?
NM: I will never blame my involvement on anyone but myself, but certainly there was pressure to become involved. In the early 1970s it was very novel to be an activist, no matter what your cause. While I ultimately decided to sign on the dotted line, there was quite a bit of pressure to become the plaintiff in the case.
RM: What happened after the trial?
NM: After the trial I worked at various jobs. Predominantly, I worked at various abortion clinics in the Dallas area, either as a medical technician or secretary. These experiences later only solidified my understanding and opinion of abortion. It was during one of these jobs that my life would change forever.
The decision to work in abortion clinics was very calculated. It was a final attempt, on my part, to justify my involvement and support for abortion on demand. It was from within this very fragile state that I was crushed to learn that one of the most vocal pro-life organizations in Texas–and in the country for that matter–was to move next door to the abortion clinic in which I worked.
The group, Operation Rescue, brought with it two small girls, Emily and Chelsea Mackey. They were daughters of a pro-life activist that worked in the Operation Rescue office. Through their innocent faith in God and their innocent desire to share it with everyone, they slowly exposed the Word of God to me as we would encounter each other on the bench between their mother’s office and the abortion clinic where I worked.
Through a series of events I can only attribute to Divine providence, I went to Church with them one Sunday and as they say, the rest is history.
My walk with God eventually brought me to the Catholic Church in 1998, where I continue my relationship with Jesus. Although I’m Catholic, I pride myself on maintaining a non-denominational ministry.
RM: Back when the pro-abortion fight started to see success, its advocates won points by citing stats of enormous numbers of illegal-abortion deaths, back-alley horror stories. Did you believe these statistics; did they affect your thinking?
NM: You are correct in that the pro-abortion movement has been successful in framing their arguments in terms of “safe and legal.”
Two important points alter the influence of these arguments for me. First, I’ve worked in a so-called “safe and legal” abortion clinic. It was not safe. It was less regulated than the veterinarian’s office where I take my cats. It was a nightmare in its entirety. It was unsanitary, there was little counseling and there was little regard for the women.
Secondly, it is now well known that the “coat-hanger” argument was a fabrication. I believe it was my friend and former abortionist, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who has said that it was the founders of the pro-abortion movement that invented the image of the back-alley coat-hanger abortion.
The grand truth today is that there are resources for women in crisis pregnancies and that is something where all Christians should be focusing their efforts.
RM: I love your distinction between “being” Jane Roe and “having been Jane Roe” or “WAS her.” Please restate that for our readers…
NM: I love to tell this story. Father Frank Pavone, the director of the Catholic organization Priests for Life, once referred to me as “the Jane Roe…” and, innocently, I asked him to please refer to me as “the former Jane Roe.” Since then, I’ve made it a point to ask anyone who refers to me as Jane Roe to include “former.”
It is important for my own healing and forgiveness that people understand that it continues to be a daily struggle for me to be labeled as Jane Roe. Yes, I realize that it was my initial choice to become involved in the case. However, my work now to bring the truth about Jane Roe to the country has been far more important and thus constitutes, in my mind, the slow death of Jane Roe–all that she stood for, all that she represented, and all that she misrepresented.
RM: Please describe the work of your ministry, Crossing Over–the work you do, and how people can help you.
NM: Unfortunately, I must answer this question by first asserting that most people believe that I now operate a large-size organization and make a handsome living doing it. The truth is, I operate a small speaking ministry in Dallas, Texas, where I am assisted by my longtime friend and assistant Connie Gonzales and a small group of volunteers.
Since its inception, Crossing Over Ministry has sent me to more than 40 states and five countries to share the story of my life as the former Jane Roe. My call to action is very simple: devote all the resources you can to make sure that any woman–no matter what age or faith background–can have the medical care and counseling she needs when faced with a crisis pregnancy.
With the help of The Justice Foundation of San Antonio, something I am personally working toward is the reversal of Roe v. Wade. However, absent that, the best thing we can do is to support crisis pregnancy centers. The best way to change minds is through action, not only words.
I’ve never wanted Crossing Over Ministry to become a large organization. I feel that our mission is bold enough–to tell the truth of my story. It is a story that I hope will change lives and minds about life issues. My main goal will remain to share my message of love and forgiveness as I have lived it. You must have a unique, powerful version of how we all can experience the knowledge of God’s forgiveness.
RM: Can you describe how you accepted the Lord’s forgiveness?
NM: It was not easy. For so long I imagined that if Norma McCorvey were to walk into a church it would implode. To understand that the church is made up of sinners was the greatest shock to me, but when I finally understood that, it tore down a huge wall that had blocked me from accepting Jesus Christ. It was the Passion story–the ultimate story of forgiveness–that resulted in me accepting that the Lord had forgiven me. Seeing Christ on the cross is a powerful reminder of my continual struggle to find forgiveness for a lifetime of wrongs.
RM: You are reaching out to others–including the unborn–in compassion. Have your former “friends” in the abortion movement tried to understand your journey of belief?
NM: Needless to say, my former allies don’t like me. They don’t like my message and they especially don’t like it that their “poster child” for abortion, who has even worked in abortion clinics, is now speaking out against abortion.
Some of my former friends in the pro-abortion movement have publicly stated that it was my own decision to convert to Christianity and that it has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade. That may be true for them, but for me it has everything to do with Roe v. Wade.
Half of that infamous case, Jane Roe, has now crossed over to a place where life, not the convenience of the mother and the death of a child, is the goal. In my mind, it is only a matter of time before the whole thing will collapse.
RM: Speaking of its collapse, on what grounds are you asking the court to reopen the case?
NM: With the help of the Allan Parker and The Justice Foundation in San Antonio, I frist brought the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The core of the case is rule 60(b)(5) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (known as Rule 60), which allows for the retrying of a case based on new evidence.
Along with the help of the Justice Foundation, we submitted to the court over 5,000 pages of evidence and affidavits from more than 1,000 women who testify having an abortion has had devastating emotional, physical and psychological effects. The federal district court, unfortunately, found that my request was moot, based on the time that has elapsed since the 1973 ruling. We appealed the ruling to the Federal Appeals court in New Orleans. In early September 2004, they also ruled against reopening the case.
Whether the case successfully advances through the court system or not, I will spend the rest of my life spreading the truth as I know it. I know the ramifications of abortion, not only because I was Jane Roe, but also because I’ve worked in abortion clinics. I’ve seen how it has become a method of birth control in this country and is not “safe and legal.”
RM: Would all abortions immediately become illegal if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade–what would be the result of such a decision, the “ripple effect?”
NM: It all depends on what the Supreme Court decided. They could pass the decision back to the states, however at this point it seems only likely that they would completely nullify Roe v. Wade, which would also invalidate a number of later decisions and make abortion illegal in the United States.
Such a move must be accompanied by adequate support services–such as better adoption services and crisis pregnancy centers, to account for what you have termed “ripple effects.”
RM: What can individuals be doing to prevent abortion in this nation?
NM: Sidewalk counseling, debates, and writing letters to editors are powerful tools. However, on this issue if we as Christians are not out on the front lines directly helping women make the important decisions of life, we will not succeed at much else.
RM: Are there other tactics/strategies we should pursue alongside your work to have your case overturned?
NM: SPREAD THE WORD! One of the most disheartening aspects of our efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade is the sparse attention given to the case in the media. My advice is to stay educated and spread the word about all legislation regarding abortion and the life issues.
RM: So the media have largely been neglectful. But when the press does recognize the former Jane Roe, how has your treatment been?
NM: “Secular media” and “fair coverage” are contradictions in terms. I am rarely given adequate coverage. For example, my recent attempts to reopen Roe v. Wade were all but ignored by the mainstream media. Why is that? You’ll have to ask them. I’m convinced they think the issue is closed. I think otherwise.
RM: Have you adjusted to life as a celebrity?
Not at all. I wish there weren’t a reason for me to be in the spotlight. However, until we have truly realized a culture of life, I will not rest.
RM: What is the best tool to help us bring focus and momentum to the pro-life cause–perhaps to work to influence those who aren’t yet pro-life?
NM: Forgiveness. In one word, the principle that should be behind the promotion of all pro-life efforts is forgiveness. Implicit in such an approach is that Christians and Americans should refrain from judging, especially women who find themselves in crisis pregnancy situations.
Forgiveness led me to Christ and forgiveness will lead our country to end the abhorrent practice of abortion.
Abortion is, unfortunately, a sign that our society has failed itself. We have failed to take care of the most innocent among us. Our first line of defense against abortion should be to care for those women who feel it is the only choice they have. Only then will we begin to eradicate this terrible practice–one that unfortunately has become so commonplace today.
RM: We Christians have been asking you to “speak” to activists in the spotlight, and to redeem the “platform” that was thrust upon you by the abortion movement, and so forth… but what about “under the radar?” What message do you have for young, scared girls, not knowing Jesus, who are pregnant (or could be) and feeling scared?
NM: I appreciate this question because it is this group of people–these girls–who I try to speak directly to: You are not alone and you should not be scared. The life inside of you deserves to live because the child is a part of you and is a creation of God. We will do whatever is necessary to make sure that you are no longer scared and can no longer be coerced into believing that abortion is easy and risk-free.
If we could somehow make all of this come true, we could win the fight against abortion.
Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books, and many articles, essays, and (currently) three blogs a week. A former political cartoonist and columnist, he has taught at four universities and regularly speaks on his specialized fields – popular culture, history, and Christian apologetics. Bostonia magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture.” He currently is writing his third book about Theodore Roosevelt; and another biography, about Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis, Cousins – The Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings of a Remarkable American Family.
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