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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
By Ryan MacPherson, a Ruth Institute Circle of Experts member
This article was first published at hausvater.org on January 22, 2009 (36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade).
Book Review: Won by Love, Norma McCorvey (with Gary Thomas), (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998)
In her own small world she was Norma McCorvey, a battered, then abandoned, wife and drug addict, pregnant but not desiring a child. The wider world would know her as “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The story told there was tragic: a woman gang raped, forced into pregnancy, and denied the opportunity to terminate that pregnancy since abortion was outlawed in Texas. This story, however, was a lie—fabricated by attorney Sarah Weddington, who herself had obtained an illegal abortion and now was on a mission to make abortion available legally. When McCorvey became “Roe,” she provided the tool Weddington needed to push the issue in the courts. But after McCorvey signed “Roe’s” affidavit, affirming the fabricated story as her own, Weddington reneged on her promise to help McCorvey deal with her crisis pregnancy. Weddington did not even so much as telephone McCorvey until four months after the child was born.
The “Roe” of Roe v. Wade did not abort her baby, a child saved, ironically, by an attorney’s need for a pregnant plaintiff in order to sue for abortion access. McCorvey had never even been inside an abortion clinic, though later she would work for one. She was both the victim of deceit and the perpetrator of deception. Marijuana helped her to cope. So did alcohol. And coarse humor, too: “I tell women we aren’t killing little babies on Wednesday; they have to come in Thursday through Saturday to do it.” (150) But her verbal defense mechanisms, like her lesbian relationship with an abortion clinic coworker, only took her deeper into the pit of despair and anger, a bitter mixture of relentless grief and suppressed guilt.
Even “Jane Roe” knew that abortion killed babies. While working at A Choice for Women, she tried to refer a sixth-month pregnant woman to an ob-gyn, but her supervisor insisted that the woman have access to the abortion she was seeking. Unable to cope, McCorvey had to take the afternoon off; she binge-drank for the two weeks following. Back at the clinic, she refused to be assigned to the “Parts Room,” where the remains of aborted children were stored in jars for transfer to a disposal facility, after first being counted and collated to ensure that no body parts were left in their mothers’ wombs following the procedure. She did, however, accept an assignment to console women afterwards, who grieved in the recovery room with confessions of having just killed their babies. No, it was not knowledge that McCorvey or her coworkers lacked; abortion clearly killed babies and devastated their mothers.
Love, not knowledge, was the missing piece in the puzzle of their fractured lives. And “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) God had turned the heart of Flip Benham, an alcoholic pro-choice unbeliever, toward Himself, transforming him into a Christian pro-life pastor who joined Operation Rescue. McCorvey called him “Flip Venom” when Operation Rescue moved into the office space next to A Choice for Women. The name-calling didn’t stick, however, since no venom came from Flip’s mouth. He spoke in love, as did his fellow “rescuers,” including Ronda Mackie and, the most loving and lovable of all, her seven-year-old daughter Emily.
Emily played on the sidewalk in front of the two adjacent offices: her mother’s Operation Rescue and McCorvey’s A Choice for Women. It was a brilliant Operation Rescue strategy: cute children playing gleefully outside, testifying by their casual existence the severe reality behind the “services” provided by A Choice for Women. Emily did more than deter women from seeking abortions; she smiled and greeted, she hugged and conversed with Norma McCorvey, a woman who had given birth to three children, aborted none, and yet facilitated the abortions of many at her clinic and millions through her role as “Jane Roe.” Finally, McCorvey admitted that she loved children. “Then why,” asked Emily, so innocently and so gently, “are you letting the little ones die inside?” (91) Had Pastor Flip asked the question, or any other adult, McCorvey would have responded with her standard mouthful of foul obscenity. For a seven-year-old girl, however, she had no defense. “I never answered her,” she later recalled. “I couldn’t.” (91)
In the months that followed, McCorvey became attached to Emily, and to her mother Ronda. A budding friendship bridged the gap between an Operation Rescue worker and an abortion clinic employee. McCorvey found herself, inexplicably, referring late-term clients away from A Choice for Women and toward Operation Rescue, knowing full well that since late-term abortions had the best profit margin she was sabotaging her boss’s business. One day Ronda Mackie took Norma McCorvey out for lunch and mentioned that Emily had nearly been aborted. Ronda’s fiancé and parents-in-law-to-be had urged the termination of an inconvenient pregnancy, back when Ronda herself was still an unbeliever.
Now the abortion question was too personalized to remain a question; the answer was clear, even to McCorvey, and made clearer still by the love of the Operation Rescue picketers, who never returned McCorvey’s invectives. “I love you,” echoed the voice of little Emily, a survivor of the abortion culture. “I forgive you,” said Pastor Flip, himself a penitent sinner.
Americans mark January 22 as the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but for “Jane Roe” the real turning point came on August 8, 1995. On that day she “renounce[d] the devil and all his works, and the sinful desires of the flesh” (187). She repented of her drug abuse, her lesbian self-defilement, her hatred toward pro-lifers, and her role in the deaths of the 35 million children aborted in America during the preceding 22 years. When Pastor Flip immersed her in the waters of Holy Baptism, she arose a new person. She had been won by love.
Her story amazes the reader, in places seeming too good to be true. But on closer inspection, it’s too good to be false. Love, not hatred, changes hearts,
even the hardest of hearts. The conversion narratives of Ronda Mackie and Flip Benham are encouraging enough; the redemption of “Jane Roe” into “Norma
McCorvey, Christian” (177) reveals the Gospel at its brightest. But the message does not stop there; the Gospel keeps shining, as forgiveness in Christ
also transforms Connie Gonzales, her former coworker and some-time lesbian partner. Remarkably, “Mary Doe” of Doe v. Bolton—the companion
case to Roe v. Wade—also repented. “Doe” (Sarah Cano) joined McCorvey in March 1997 as the two women publicly identified themselves
as “new creatures in Christ and children of God” while dedicating the National Memorial for Unborn Children in Chattanooga, Tennessee (236).
Forgiveness does not come easily; Christ suffered greatly and died to make it possible. “It was so hard for me to conceive that the Lord had forgiven me,” acknowledges McCorvey, “especially after so many children had been killed. But He has forgiven me and restored me. And, gradually, I have learned to trust His Word more than my own feelings.” (228) Though painful emotions still return, bringing with them doubts concerning God’s love, McCorvey finds comfort especially in these passages: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17); “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Norma McCorvey’s story concludes with words of hope. “If God can forgive Norma McCorvey—Jane Roe—and her role in abortion, surely
he can forgive you as well.” (229) Her conversion reveals not only the limitless love of Christ, but also the effectiveness of Christ’s servants who
“speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
For Ronda Mackie, loving Norma McCorvey meant trusting her to watch over her daughter Emily who began regularly visiting the reception room of A Choice for Women. Emily brought gifts of her own artwork, labeled “Jesus loves you, Miss Norma.” A child’s love communicated a message that anti-abortion ranting and raving, with slogans like “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart,” could not. “This is what happens when Christians are willing to face their enemies and adopt the most powerful strategy ever devised—the strategy displayed by Christ’s death on the cross, the strategy of laying down your life so that others, including the unborn, might live. This is what it is like to be won by love.” (240)
McCorvey’s autobiography calls to repentance both the abortion perpetrator and the abortion protester: the one for taking innocent life and the other for too often fighting a culture of death with a culture of hate. Either way, the world needs more people like Emily, a child spared from abortion and a spokesperson of truth in love. And to become like Emily, one first needs Christ, who did not spare Himself, but lived and died for the truth in love. Christ practiced “lifestyle witnessing” to the extreme. The gift of His Spirit empowers others to do the same.
If more people would read Won by Love, then they could understand more clearly the gracious will of God amidst one of our nation’s greatest tragedies. Let’s just hope they don’t keep it to themselves. Christ’s love, communicated in actions and not just in words, transformed America’s most infamous abortion advocate into a Christian defender of purity and life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no one could ever hear the phrase “Roe v. Wade” without remembering “Jane Roe’s” repentance and Christ’s forgiveness?
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their children in Mankato, Minnesota, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.