Skip to comments.Roe no more, but still a voice on abortion- Norma McCorvey resurfaces on other side
Posted on 02/28/2004 10:22:11 PM PST by weegee
Roe no more, but still a voice on abortion
Norma McCorvey resurfaces on other side of issue that has defined her life
By THOMAS KOROSEC
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Dallas Bureau
DALLAS -- Norma McCorvey is just one woman with an opinion about abortion.
But that is not why the world continues to beat a path to the modest Dallas bungalow where she has lived for the past three decades.
In 1973, McCorvey was the identity-shielded Jane Roe of the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion.
Years later, after her much-publicized conversion to Christianity in 1995, she started Roe No More, an anti-abortion ministry run from an office in her converted garage.
Today, she is trying to become Roe again.
In June, she filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to reconsider and overturn Roe, which has been at the center of the nation's political and social divisions for 31 years. For the 56-year-old McCorvey, who at times called Roe v. Wade "my case," it has shaped and now dominates her life.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to consider written arguments as to whether the Supreme Court made a mistake in legalizing abortion.
McCorvey's former allies in the abortion-rights camp say her views -- and what they say was merely her symbolic role as the plaintiff in the historic lawsuit -- are small change compared with the legal precedent of a woman's right to an abortion.
But even Sarah Weddington, one of two lawyers who successfully argued Roe's case, concedes McCorvey will always be of interest.
"The country, I think, remains fascinated with the case and she was the plaintiff," said Weddington, who now teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. "I wish I had picked a different plaintiff."
In 1970, when she took McCorvey's case, Weddington said McCorvey asked only that her name not be used, that she would not be asked to go to court and not have to pay legal fees.
McCorvey has revealed intimate details of her difficult life in two autobiographies, one on each side of the abortion issue.
They recount the Louisiana native's life as a sex-abuse victim and reform school dropout who bore three unwanted children she did not raise before landing in Dallas' gay and lesbian subculture. She writes how she abused alcohol and drugs, worked as a bartender, carnival barker, then later as a counselor at several abortion clinics.
Today, McCorvey's occupation is full-time abortion opponent, with a Web site, a speaking schedule and a book for sale. She said her religious conversion compels her to pry open her old case.
"We just got back from Ireland when this ... hit the fan," she said last weekend, referring to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to review her effort to reopen Roe.
McCorvey was at home with her longtime roommate, Connie Gonzales, whom McCorvey has identified in the past as her lesbian companion. She says she has denounced that lifestyle, identifying Gonzales now as her friend and godmother in the Catholic faith.
"Since I became a Christian, this (her appeal) is the only thing I've been looking forward to -- besides being with my children and grandchildren," said McCorvey, as she led a reporter to her narrow, dimly lit living room. "It's the room we're comfortable in. ... Those windows are bulletproof."
In 1989, five years after she acknowledged publicly that she was Jane Roe, someone fired three shotgun blasts at her house in the middle of the night. The crime, which came along with a wave of people strewing baby clothes on her lawn, was never solved.
McCorvey presented herself as a staunch abortion-rights supporter for the next six years, but she now says: "I started changing my mind many years before. I really wasn't comfortable with it."
She said she has prayed for Roe to be overturned, but did not think she would be involved directly until she heard someone with the Texas Justice Foundation speaking on the case at an anti-abortion workshop in Washington four years ago.
Lawyers for the San Antonio-based conservative group came to Dallas shortly afterward and began strategizing, she said.
"Through a lot of prayer and meditation and speaking to people in the pro-life movement, I just felt it was the right thing to do."
McCorvey, who has never had an abortion, said it took three years to compile the personal affidavits and thousands of pages of exhibits supporting her lawsuit's contention that new evidence has come to light since the Roe decision, showing that an abortion is harmful to a woman's physical and mental health.
In an affidavit filed with the new case in Dallas, McCorvey said, "Because the courts allowed my case to proceed without ... ever explaining to me the reality of abortion, a tragic mistake was made."
Only days after McCorvey's attorneys filed her case in Dallas, U.S. District Judge David Godbey threw it out. "Whether or not the Supreme Court was infallible, its Roe decision was certainly final in this litigation," the judge wrote in his order. "It is simply too late now, thirty years after the fact, for McCorvey to revisit that judgment."
He said legal issues surrounding abortion should be left to "other parties in other cases."
McCorvey's attorneys appealed Godbey's ruling to the circuit court in New Orleans, where a three-judge panel is reviewing the pleadings. They ruled last week they will do so without oral arguments.
"If they rule in her favor, that would be something," said Douglas Laycock, who teaches constitutional law at UT.
He said federal judges are strict in interpreting the rules for reopening old cases because they want lawsuits to have clear and final endings.
"The problem isn't, in a case like this, where the winner says she's changed her mind," he explained. "If it were easy to keep coming back, the losing side would never quit. You'd have nothing decided in the courts."
Laycock said he sees McCorvey's lawsuit as a political statement rather than a legal case with a chance of success.
Friends and former allies on both sides of the abortion debate say McCorvey has always wanted to play a role in that political debate, although she has at times been a difficult and complex ally to have in camp.
Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles lawyer and feminist who represented McCorvey for several years, said abortion-rights leaders never gave her much of a role because they saw her as unreliable, someone with "a number of personal challenges," including, at least in those days, a drinking problem. McCorvey said she no longer drinks.
Weddington said McCorvey "has said so many things on just about everything. ... I do think, though, that she is sincere in her belief now that abortion is wrong."