Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
I recently heard a homily where a priest matter-of-factly said that “the culture will not help you.” It will not help you reach Heaven, it will not help you cultivate friendship with God, and it will not help you live up to your human dignity. Of course one need only look briefly at current popular entertainment choices, or trending social media topics, for evidence of this fact. The culture is, well, opposed to pretty much everything we ought to stand for: authentic love, truth, goodness, and beauty.
Now it may be considered old news by now, but the world lost a notable woman last month. Norma McCorvey, perhaps best known as “Jane Roe” of the notorious 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, passed away from heart failure on February 18th. Norma died a Catholic and a pro-life activist, but it was of course not always so.
It is safe to say that the culture most definitely did not help Norma McCorvey.
In spite of what secular pro-choice feminists might have you believe about the supposed pro-woman, trail-blazing nature of Roe v. Wade, much of Norma’s life both before and after the case read more like a tragedy than a hero’s tale. She was in trouble with the law even as a child, she was both sexually and physically abused as an adult, and she spent many years living as a lesbian. Life, for Norma, was hard.
And yet when Norma’s request to obtain an illegal abortion in Texas was denied, she caught the attention of the two young attorneys who’d been seeking out women to build a case. They named Norma as the lead plaintiff. And though the class-action lawsuit took three years to reach the hallowed halls of the highest court in our land, persistence eventually paid off. In 1973, abortion became legal in all fifty states, thanks in part to a previously unknown woman named Norma McCorvey.
But of course that wasn’t the end of the story. Later in life, Norma changed her mind about abortion and became a full-fledged pro-life activist. Then she converted to Catholicism. In spite of the culture and all of the lies she’d been sold, Norma found the truth.
In a 2005 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Norma described feeling that she had been used as a “pawn” by her lawyers. She testified that “instead of getting me financial or vocational help, instead of helping me to get off of drugs and alcohol, instead of working for open adoption or giving me other help, my lawyers wanted to eliminate the right of society to protect women and children from abortionists.”
The culture will not help you.
Of course, skeptics maintain that Norma was not used or disrespected, and that perhaps her frustration actually stemmed from not having a more prominent role in the legal proceedings. Connie Gonzalez, Norma’s former long-term lesbian partner, even reported to Vanity Fair in 2010 that Norma was a “phony.” Regardless, it is abundantly clear that Norma did indeed have a change of heart about abortion, at some point. She did become Catholic. And in a television ad from several years ago, she told viewers: “You read about me in history books, but now I am dedicated to spreading the truth about preserving the dignity of all human life from natural conception to natural death”.
It’s important, when looking back upon a person’s life, to consider not only the beautiful triumphs but also the challenges. Nobody is one-dimensional, or merely the sum of their mistakes and/or accomplishments. In the final analysis, Norma McCorvey was a rare hero. She overcame many years of adversity, pain, and regret, joyfully lending her name, time, and gifts to the fight for life. She is proof that God can use any one of us in magnificent ways. It would perhaps have been easy for Norma, post-conversion, to remain in the shadows--after all, she was not exactly the poster-child you’d expect for the pro-life cause. But instead she spoke out and worked hard for the most vulnerable among us, telling the hard truths that many simply do not want to hear.
Norma McCorvey certainly represents different things to different people, but to me she stands as a sign of hope. Hope that even in a culture that will tear you down, use you, and then promptly cast you aside, God’s love is stronger yet. Hope that Jesus seeks and finds the lost, and brings them in close. And, hope that hearts and minds can be transformed. The culture may not help you, but mercifully not one of us is beyond Christ’s redemption.
Requiescat in pace, Norma McCorvey.