Sunday, 19 February 2017


My obituary of Norma McCorvey, the woman who was Jane Roe in Roe v Wade, is online at the Guardian. You can link to it here; it should be in the paper tomorrow. I wrote it quickly this morning, but what is online is pretty much as I wrote it, apart from the paper's weird style rules which for some reason refuse to capitalize things like Supreme Court (I once had a huge but ultimately futile argument with them trying to point out the difference between North America and north America).

Her life story is the stuff of a TV movie. She met Woody McCorvey when she was still only 15. She drank, like her mother, and did drugs, which her mother said was the real reason, rather than her dislike of Norma's professed lesbianism, that she took her grandaughter and adopted her. In fact, in a Vanity Fair interview, she said it was her disapproval of her daughter's entire, bi-sexual, love life.

It is hard to believe that, at five months pregnant, she really felt her lawyers could win her an abortion; she must have known the case was going forward as a test. It is hard not to sympathize with her feeling used, as she seems to have been through much of her life, but at least her lawyers kept her anonymity, and I found it to her great credit that she stepped out of the shadows to work with advising pregnant women on their choices.

Her conversion to anti-abortion, in retrospect, does not seem so strange. She had stood in front of 300,000 people in Washington, sharing a platform with Gloria Steinem and the like, but she was just Jane Roe to that crowd. Part of the appeal of her conversion had to be the opportunity to be at the centre of the stage as herself. I have no doubt that she was being used for her notoriety; you only have to read the message of sympathy from Father Pavone, which can't resist stating the movement's message, to get a sense of that. But there was another side to her conversion; her former partner, Connie Gonzalez, told Vanity Fair that Norma was a 'phony'. She had left Connie after 35 years, partly because she'd renounced lesbianism and partly because Gonzalez had suffered a stroke. Gonzalez stayed in their house as McCorvey moved on to her new life as an anti-abortion activist; Gonzalez gave Vanity Fair all of McCorvey's papers left behind to help with their article. 

It's a fascinating story, and I used that final quote because I thought it caught the essence of her life: she was just someone who was caught up in events, not even aware necessarily of what was happening around her, and it was that sense that probably spurred her into her later action. Given that Roe v Wade seems under fire yet again, and abortion rights are shrinking all the time. Given that the new Justice is likely to be Mr. Gorsuch, a Trump nominee 'acceptable' to the Christian right, that fire may at long last prove fatal. 

I mentioned that Henry Wade was the Dallas DA who worked on the JFK assassination; Wade did prosecute Jack Ruby for killing Oswald. Wade is best known for saying in his late-night press conference that Oswald was a member of the Free Cuba Committe. That was corrected from the crowd,  someone saying 'Fair Play for Cuba Committee'. That someone was Jack Ruby.

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