Norma McCorvey — whose infamous Roe v. Wade case reached the Supreme Court and resulted in the legalization of abortion across America — died Feb. 18 at the age of 69. Journalist Joshua Prager, who has been working on a book about the Roe v. Wade decision, told The Washington Post that McCorvey died of heart disease at an assisted-care facility in Texas.
McCorvey — known by abortion proponents under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” — was only 21 years old, a high-school dropout and “street kid” who had lived in a Catholic boarding school and a reform school for delinquents, facing drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, when she found herself expecting a child. She had already given birth to two children: a daughter Melissa, who was conceived during her brief marriage to sheet-metal worker Elwood “Woody” McCorvey and who was being raised by Norma’s parents, and another, whom she had put up for adoption. She was desperate to obtain an abortion this time, although the procedure was illegal in her home state of Texas.
Enter Sarah Weddington, a pro-abortion feminist attorney who saw Norma’s pregnancy as an opportunity to challenge the Texas abortion law and advance abortion as a choice available to all women. Weddington, who had aborted her own child, did not help McCorvey to obtain an abortion; rather, she used her to build a class-action suit defining abortion as a “right.” Roe v. Wade eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court; and on Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to choose abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The “right to privacy” named in the Supreme Court decision is not found specifically but is, according to Roe v. Wade, to be implied in the “penumbra” of the Constitution.
The Grace of God
Norma McCorvey might have continued on the trajectory of support for abortion rights, but in the 1980s, she became a born-again Christian, being baptized by evangelical pastor Philip “Flip” Benham.
Lynn Mills, a pro-life activist from Detroit, talked with the Register about the moment she saw Norma on television, accepting Christ in her life and bending her head back to be baptized in a swimming pool. Mills remembered, “I said to my daughter, ‘Look at the difference! Look at her face!’ The difference in Norma as a born-again Christian, when Christ was in her life, was remarkable. She looked so happy!”
McCorvey admitted publicly that she had lied: that her pregnancy was caused not by a rape, but by an affair that she believed was “love.” She came to understand that it was pro-life Christians, not abortion advocates, who extended a hand of friendship; and she became a spokesperson for the pro-life cause.
But God wasn’t finished with her. On Aug. 17, 1998, McCorvey took the next step: She was received into the Catholic Church at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Dallas, Texas. Lynn Mills told the Register about her joy as a new Catholic: “I wish everyone would convert the way Norma converted.”
McCorvey herself wrote about her conversion on the website of Priests for Life, explaining:
“My mom was a Roman Catholic, and she would often take me to Catholic churches and leave me at Mass alone. There aren’t many good memories from my childhood, but this is one of them. I liked it so much and was often moved to tears. I felt the presence of God. There was something very moving about the Catholic ritual and symbolism — the procession, with the priest and altar boys, the incense, cross and candles, the statues and the music. I knew God was everywhere, but in Catholic churches I always felt especially close to him. When I asked my mom why she would take me there, she said, ‘Remember, the Catholic Church was the first Church.’ I knew I couldn’t take communion, but I was content.
“The thing that I found out about church is that no one bothers you — you’re just praying and being with God, his Son and the Blessed Virgin Mary. There’s nothing else on your mind. I find peace in that. Mass is a time for cleansing your soul. You’re in his house, and everything is quiet except for the priest saying the Mass. It’s a time to spend only with God.
“The practice of going to Mass occasionally continued into my adult life. After my baptism, my friend Connie Gonzales and I would worship regularly at Hillcrest Bible Church on three Sundays out of the month. There was one Sunday each month, though, that we called ‘God’s Sunday,’ on which we would go to Catholic Mass.
“So the Catholic Church, and the idea of formally joining it, was never that far from my mind. Several events and the answers to a few key questions brought me to the definite decision to do so.”
When Norma McCorvey entered the Catholic Church in 1998, Lynn Mills served as her sponsor. Mills talked with the Register about how she came to be McCorvey’s friend and, eventually, her sponsor:
“I was just in the right place at the right time. I simply met her at Joe Scheidler’s trial. We became fast friends and email buddies. And as she was explaining how she was coming into the Church, I asked who her sponsor was. She didn’t have one — and so I stepped in.”
Five priests concelebrated the Mass, including Father Ed Robinson, Frank Pavone and Jonathan Austin, who was assigned to St. Monica’s parish. Looking back on the day, McCorvey wrote:
“I made my profession of faith standing before these five priests, and Father Frank placed the oil upon my forehead, signifying the strength of the Holy Spirit and imparting the Spirit’s gifts that come in confirmation. Then the Eucharistic Sacrifice was offered.
“... I started getting cold chills right before I went up for my first holy Communion. I knew somehow that it was Holy Spirit. Then when I received the flesh of Christ’s Body and his Blood, I felt a real sense of inner peace.”
Catholic radio host and author Al Kresta interviewed Norma McCorvey numerous times on his show, which is broadcast on Ave Maria Radio and EWTN stations nationwide. Kresta included a transcript from one interview in a book he co-authored with Nick Thomm, Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories From Well-Known Catholics. McCorvey, who had worked for five years at an abortion facility, talked candidly about an incident that was important in changing her mind about abortion:
“I remember one lady came into the abortion mill. She said she was pregnant with a little girl. Well, she wanted a little boy. She told me: ‘If you can’t have what you want, then why have anything at all?’ I thought, ‘You are just too weird for me, and I’m strange, you know?’ I didn’t know that the abortionist was in the back lab listening to the whole conversation. He sent me home. I said, ‘Far out’ and stopped at the Beer Barn, where I could just drive through and get me a case of Corona and then pulled the biggest ‘yahoo drunk’ of my entire life.
“When I got home, I started ripping things down off my apartment walls, newspaper clippings, t-shirts, buttons, banners, posters, pro-abortion stuff, and I made a fire in the middle of July. I mean, I was just burning all that stuff to a crisp. When the firemen came up to the apartment, I said, ‘I’m drunk as Ole Cooter Brown, and I’m burning all this junk.’ They asked, ‘Well, why are you burning it now? It’s in the middle of summer.’ I said, ‘When a person has an awakening, um, you just do it on impulse.’ Then the abortionist called and asked me if I had ‘corrected my attitude,’ and I don’t think I have to tell you, Al, what I told him.”
Kresta asked Norma to describe what had prompted her to continue her faith journey to enter the Catholic Church, after accepting an evangelical altar call. She responded:
“To put it simply, Al, I saw all the Catholics coming out to the abortion mill, after I was with Operation Rescue, and they were in such reverence. They just glowed. It just really won my heart. One night on the way to an Operation Rescue rally, I asked that ‘radical’ Father Frank Pavone, ‘Father Frank, is there such a thing as a born-again Catholic?’ He said: ‘Absolutely, Miss Norma. Are you thinking about joining the Catholic Church?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, Father, I think I am.’ So he gave me my first rosary and my first book on how to say my prayers. I was truly blessed. Eventually, I just decided: I want to join the Catholic Church. I want to join the largest and the biggest and the best Church in the whole world. I’m sorry; I’m just hard-core Catholic.”
Later, after her entry into the Catholic Church, McCorvey found the peace that had eluded her. Lynn Mills talked about the conversion and its effect on her life: “She loved her Catholic faith with all her heart. She was so happy to be Catholic, so happy to not be pro-abortion any more. All of that was real.”
In recent years, McCorvey had harsh words for the abortion industry, which championed her case in 1973. “I think it’s safe to say,” she wrote, “that the entire abortion industry is based on a lie. I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.”
Norma McCorvey was a troubled woman whose life was characterized by missteps, although she never had the abortion she once sought. Her heart was sincere, though; and when God revealed himself to her, she embraced the faith enthusiastically. May she know the love and mercy of God for all eternity.