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Monday, October 19, 1998
A second religious conversion for 'Jane Roe'
of Roe vs. Wade
By RICHARD N. OSTLING
DALLAS (AP) - For years her life has been a twisted path. Its
latest turn, Norma McCorvey says, received a nudge from heaven.
In 1970 she was "Jane Roe," an anonymous woman who
said she had been raped and needed an abortion. Three years later
she was the winning plaintiff in Roe vs. Wade, the epochal Supreme
Court case that overturned all of the nation's abortion statutes.
During the 1980s, "Roe" revealed herself in interviews
and a made-for-TV movie. She was really Norma McCorvey. She confessed
that her tale of rape a decade before had been a lie; she was
simply an unwed mother who later gave the child up for adoption.
In 1994 she published an autobiography that mingled pro-choice
preachments with tell-all detail about dysfunctional parents,
reform school, petty crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, an abusive
husband, a second unwed pregnancy, attempted suicide and lesbianism.
She had dabbled in New Age and occult ideas, but in 1995 a
new chapter came: She received Jesus and joined the Evangelical
Protestants. She was baptized before network TV cameras by a most
improbable mentor: the Rev. Philip ("Flip") Benham,
national leader of the fervently anti-abortion Operation Rescue.
"Jane Roe" joined his staff - and his cause.
Now, three years later, the Christian and the pro-life commitments
have stuck. But at age 51, McCorvey has left Operation Rescue
and has changed faiths, this time without hoopla.
After intensive instruction she received Roman Catholic confirmation
on Aug. 17.
Her parish, St. Thomas Aquinas, is located near the modest
bungalow stuffed with knickknacks where she has lived since 1970.
Joining the Catholic church is something of a homecoming, as
well as a quest for calm after years of turbulence.
When she was a young girl in a conflict-ridden Texas family,
McCorvey sometimes went to Jehovah's Witness meetings with her
father but was far more comforted by the Catholic Masses her mother
took her to occasionally.
"It was so beautiful and quiet. They seemed so much closer
to God and I liked that, being as close as I could possibly be
to God," she says in a voice as rough as her background.
The warm memories lingered despite later fury at her mother,
who she says tricked her into signing away custody of her firstborn
and then threw her out of the house. "My mom screamed, 'What
did a lesbian know about raising a child?' I lost my child, and
McCorvey's 1995 turning was largely the work of Benham, a onetime
saloonkeeper who had experienced a radical religious conversion
much like hers. He simply befriended her when Operation Rescue
moved next door to the abortion clinic where she was working.
The moment of conversion, however, did not occur at the church
Benham attended but at the nondenominational Hillcrest Church.
There McCorvey walked forward one Saturday night to receive Jesus,
under the spell of an evangelistic sermon by pastor Morris Sheats.
She was to spend nearly three years at Hillcrest.
Working at Operation Rescue headquarters, meanwhile, McCorvey
befriended many Catholics. She attended a Houston conference of
Human Life International, a Catholic pro-life group, last April.
"I felt serene there," she said. "I felt safe.
And for me that's saying a lot."
There, she attended a Mass celebrated by Father Frank Pavone,
head of Priests for Life, and she sensed "this is it. This
is where I should be."
Something more mysterious was also at work.
McCorvey believes she sometimes experiences communications
from God, not in an audible voice but specific directives nonetheless.
"I started getting all these messages from the Lord saying,
my child, you will soon be with me." She feared this meant
her death was imminent. But one night last June the message became
clear: "My child, I want you to come home to my church."
"I shot up out of bed. This just in from the Big Guy upstairs.
He wants me to join the Roman Catholic Church." She e-mailed
the news to Pavone, then sought Catholic instruction from Father
Edward Robinson, a Dallas pro-life leader.
McCorvey began meeting the white-robed, 84-year-old priest
in the library of a Dominican priory. He sent her away each time
with a pile of reading matter.
"I am extremely impressed with her honesty and willingness
to do the homework," Robinson says. "I have a clear
field to work in." An eager learner, she brought four pages
of questions to their first session.
For McCorvey, the person of Mary is especially attractive.
"What took me by surprise was when I found out that Jesus
Christ has founded this church for his Mother," she says.
"The Blessed Virgin is a teacher, a mother. She's the queen.
Without her there would have been no salvation for everyone."
And the pope? "It makes perfectly good sense to have one
leader. It takes all the confusion out of it. Whatever he decides
Her conversion to Catholicism hits a bit awkwardly for the
Protestant publishing house, Thomas Nelson, which last January
issued "Won By Love," McCorvey's account of her Evangelical
conversion and her stand against abortion. The book ends with
McCorvey happily involved with Operation Rescue and Hillcrest
But she was never a conventional poster child for Evangelical
Her language has cleaned up considerably but, she admits, "I
still drop a cuss word now and then." She has cut down to
two packs of cigarettes on a good day. She declares herself free
of cocaine and alcohol addiction but still drinks a bit, limiting
herself to a couple of Corona beers. "I know my limitations."
There's a more complex lifestyle issue. Years ago, McCorvey
met Connie Gonzales, a store clerk who had caught her shoplifting.
They developed into best friends, housemates and lovers. McCorvey
says the relationship turned platonic in the early 1990s, and
now that she's a Christian she believes same-sex behavior is wrong.
When the two friends continued to share a house, Flip Benham
advised McCorvey to move out, fearing that she might rejoin the
lesbian subculture. "Flip had a fit over the whole thing,"
she recalls. "He said he was my leader. I don't like for
people to try to control me and I rebelled." Besides, "Pastor
Sheats said if we could stand before God with a pure heart he
would encourage us to stay living together."
She also criticizes Benham's recent tack, of having Operation
Rescue demonstrate outside the Cathedral of Hope, a large Dallas
church that caters to homosexuals. "I don't agree with the
lesbians or the gays," she says, "but they have the
right to attend the church of their choice and not be interrupted."
On abortion, too, she questions the effectiveness of Operation
Rescue's militant tactics and now prefers to participate in silent
monthly Catholic prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. "The
Catholics are nonviolent. There is no storming into an abortion
mill or chaining people to staircases. You accomplish nothing,
and some say Operation Rescue set the movement back 20 years."
Benham also opposed McCorvey's decision last year to form the
"Roe No More Ministry" and go out on the road as a pro-life
speaker. Benham says she was not mature enough as a Christian
and should be kept "under wraps."
Ronda Mackey, a fellow Operation Rescue worker who left with
McCorvey to help with the new ministry, now has changed her mind
and agrees it's too soon for McCorvey to become a platform personality.
"She's still a baby Christian. It's an awful lot to ask."
Benham says simply, "I love her and she knows it, but
I love her with the truth."
On abortion, though, Operation Rescue seems to have made a
permanent impact. Says McCorvey, "I'm 100 per cent pro-life.
I don't believe in abortion even in an extreme situation. If the
woman is impregnated by a rapist, it's still a child. You're not
to act as your own God." She'll be delivering that message
in 14 speeches around the United States this fall.
Her new mentor, Robinson, says the speaking tours are a good
idea, a way for her to make amends "for any complicity she
had in this abortion business." McCorvey has been freed from
guilt about her past, he says. "She is perfectly at peace."
Sheats is taking his convert's defection in stride. "People
have to see their own journey. We just leave these things in the
hands of God. We're grateful that God allowed her to cross our
path... . I love her deeply."
McCorvey repays the compliment, saying, "Hillcrest will
always be my home church. My testimony is basically Evangelical."
So then, what is she, Evangelical or Catholic? "I'm a
Christian," she replies. "We all serve the same God."
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