In abortion debate, it's time to say we're sorry

Posted: Jun 20, 2001 12:00 AM
I rarely open fund-raising mail. So many requests; so little money. But the name Jane Roe in the upper left-hand corner caught my eye. I hadn't given Jane Roe, a.k.a. Norma McCorvey, much thought in recent years and wondered what she's up to. Enclosed was a six-page letter along with the predictable request for donations. Reflexively, I started to toss it, but the first words of the letter stopped me. Let's just say, McCorvey's handlers know how to write a good lead: "I owe you an apology," the letter begins. "I said I was gang raped. And I wasn't. I said I didn't know who the father of my baby was. And I did. I said I wanted someone to kill my baby. And what I really wanted was someone to help me. It was a nasty, bald-faced lie. And I knew it." The letter goes on to describe how McCorvey became America's national poster girl for abortion, her subsequent change of heart and, recently, her creation of the "Roe No More Ministry." Her story is familiar to some, but others may be interested to learn that Norma McCorvey of Roe vs. Wade fame never had an abortion herself. She got pregnant during an abusive marriage and, after recalling the beating her husband gave her during her first pregnancy, sought escape. Nowhere in her imagined future did a second child have a place. So McCorvey found a lawyer on the fast track to legal stardom, signed an affidavit and thereafter was Jane Roe. Fast-forward: McCorvey's second baby, a daughter, was born anyway because the courts are slow. McCorvey put up her baby for adoption, got a job at an abortion clinic and proceeded to become a media celebrity. Today, 41 million abortions later, Norma McCorvey is a reincarnated Lady Macbeth. Instead of washing her hands, she just keeps talking, telling her story to anyone who will listen. "For years abortion was my life," she writes in her letter. "But the day-to-day stress of helping kill babies was eating away at my soul." There's something irresistible about truth and a person's willingness to say, "I'm sorry; I was wrong." I hope young people, especially, are listening. For the abortion-as-choice story has always been half-told. It's been a tale of medical procedures and secular choices, bereft of any hint that there's a spiritual side to abortion. One needn't convert to Christianity to discover that life is a force independent of flesh, though some people, including McCorvey, profit from that route. In fact, I almost regret that McCorvey's message is couched in the language of the born-again. Her letter smacks unavoidably of televangelism - it's as if it says, "Just drop a check in the mail today and ye (ital) shall (end ital) be saved." Even so, her message is important and should be heard. Even if you're pro-choice, and I confess to ambivalence, 41 million abortions is a pathetic commentary on who and what we've become. Lazy and stupid come to mind. With effective birth control so readily available, how can we have made so many miscalculations? My ambivalence stems from my reluctance to criminalize a "choice," for lack of a better word, that has been in place throughout the life of an entire generation. We can't go back to illegal, back-alley abortions. But we can change hearts and minds, as President Bush has suggested, though I'm not sure he gets his own message. The way to change hearts and minds is through honest talk about what abortion really is, and McCorvey's ministry may be a piece of that. Another piece may be persuading women who've had abortions to tell their stories. Not all have regrets, but millions will whisper to ministers, rabbis and therapists that they've never shaken the experience or the sense that they killed their own child. Unfortunately, those who might speak are silenced by the implication that they're dishonest. I once heard attorney Alan Dershowitz say words to the effect: "You can't have an abortion and then be pro-life. It's hypocritical." Sure you can. You can even seek a constitutional ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, become famous for it, and change your mind. What's needed, perhaps, is a larger understanding that women who have sought (and who seek) abortion without a full understanding of what they do are not solely responsible. We are all responsible inasmuch as we - our society, culture, nation, our courts - have said that abortion is OK. There's something irresistible about truth and saying: We're sorry. We were wrong.
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