Norma McCorvey was one of the most important people for the pro-abortion cause. As the anonymous “Jane Roe,” it was her case, Roe v. Wade, that went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and resulted in abortion being legalized throughout the country. She also worked in an abortion clinic and lived for many years in a lesbian relationship.
But until her death in 2017, not only was she a pro-life activist, but a practicing Roman Catholic! This is her amazing story.
A Troubled Childhood
Born in 1947, McCorvey had a terrible childhood. Her father abandoned her family. Her mother was an alcoholic. She got in trouble with the law for stealing as a teen. She was sent for a few years to a Catholic boarding school, but was let out when she was 15. She went to live with her cousin, who she claimed regularly raped her.
At 16, she got married, but soon left her husband because he abused her. She moved back in with her mother and gave birth to her first child when she was 18. She started drinking heavily and began identifying herself as a lesbian. She also started using and selling drugs at some point.
In the midst of this chaos, her mother tricked her into signing papers giving her mother custody of the child and then kicked her out of the house. Soon after that, even though she identified as a lesbian, she had a second child, which she voluntarily placed for adoption.
So her life had lots of problems. Unfortunately, they kept getting bigger.
A Desperate Lie
At 21, she was living with her father and working low-paying jobs and became pregnant a third time. Some friends advised her to claim she had been gang raped in order to qualify for an exception in Texas’ anti-abortion laws. However, upon trying to obtain an abortion with this story, she discovered no such exception existed in Texas law.
After also unsuccessfully trying to obtain an illegal abortion, McCorvey was referred to two attorneys who were looking for a pregnant woman seeking an abortion in order to challenge Texas’ abortion laws. She repeated her lie to them that she had been gang raped. They decided to pursue the case with her.
Amazingly, she didn’t attend any of the trials during the three year course of the case. She just signed the paperwork and the attorneys took over from there. In the mean time, she went on with her life. She gave birth to her third child (the one she wanted to abort) and placed her for adoption.
An Unlikely Friendship
The identity of “Jane Roe” was not known until McCorvey publicly revealed her identity in the mid-1980s. Despite her troubled history, she became an icon of the pro-choice movement and started working in an abortion clinic herself. In 1994, she published an autobiography telling her story called I Am Roe.
That’s when things started to change.
While at a book signing, she met Flip Benham, who worked for the pro-life activist organization Operation Rescue. He shouted at her that she was “responsible for the deaths of over 33 million children.” Six months later, he moved Operation Rescue’s headquarters into a building right next to the abortion clinic where McCorvey worked.
Though she initially rebuffed all of his attempts at speaking with her, she eventually started talking to him during her smoke breaks outside. During one conversation, he mentioned that he hadn’t been to a Beach Boys concert since 1976. For some reason, this had a deeply humanizing effect on McCorvey’s view of Benham, and they became friends.
Soon after, she went inside the Operation Rescue office and noticed a fetal development poster on the wall. Suddenly, something within her clicked, as she later wrote:
“The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. ‘Norma’, I said to myself, ‘They’re right’. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth — that’s a baby!
“I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It wasn’t about ‘missed periods’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion — at any point — was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.”
A year later, she had not only completely changed her mind on abortion, but had decided to leave behind lesbianism and become an evangelical Christian.
On August 8th, 1995, Benham himself baptized her in a backyard swimming pool on national television.
Home to Rome
But God wasn’t done with her yet.
In her pro-life work, she befriended Fr. Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who dedicated his life to ending abortion. One day in prayer, she heard God clearly tell her that she would “be with Him soon.” Scared thinking this meant she was going to die in the near future, she mentioned the experience to Fr. Pavone, who told her to simply continue praying for more clarity.
Crediting the influence of Fr. Pavone, she later wrote, “I listened to him [Fr. Pavone] and came to realize that what God was actually saying to me was to ‘come ALL the way home to Him’ in His Church— the Church Jesus Christ Himself founded, the Mother church.” At an evangelical church in Waco, Texas, she announced she had decided to convert to Catholicism.
McCorvey received Confirmation and her first Holy Communion on August 17, 1998. She was active in pro-life work (example) and a practicing Catholic until she died of heart failure on Feb. 18, 2017 at age 69.
Despite her troubled past and role in legalizing abortion, McCorvey received total forgiveness by the grace of God!