I am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade and Freedom of Choice and A Question of Choice. (Athenaeum).
A Question of Choice by Sarah Weddington New York, C.P. Putnam's Sons, 1993, 306 pp.
The truth is rarely pure and never simple, so said Oscar Wilde. Norma McCorvey's autobiography and Sarah Weddington's book provide ample evidence of this aphorism. McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, and Weddington, the lawyer who argued the case, present two vastly different voices in the epic battle for legalized abortion. The reverberation from their colliding lives has resounded throughout the United States for the past twenty-three years and has affected millions of women and children.
Each author presents her perception of the events leading up to Roe and its subsequent impact on her life and on society. McCorvey's book is plainly written, poignant, powerful and full of invective for everyone from leaders of the women's movement to the Roman Catholic Church to Republicans. Weddington's book is a more thorough, erudite, legalistic version. But it is in their contrasting accounts and in the power balance between the two women that a clearer picture emerges of how this landmark lawsuit came to be.
McCorvey's work is what one would expect from a woman who describes herself as "not sophisticated...or gentle...a rough woman, born into pain and anger." Her life story is like that of a soap opera character; abused child, reform school dropout, sexually assaulted teen, battered wife, and drug and alcohol abuser. Her goal in life had not been to succeed, but to survive. For McCorvey, the daily effort to exist superseded all others. As she says, "I have not been able to spend a lifetime thinking of big issues or political strategies or, many times, even what I am going to do the next day or hour or minute." Her self-worth, such as it was, came from her identity as "Jane Roe." Even in this life-defining event, however, she never held the tiller to steer the boat. More accurately, she flapped in the winds whipped up by two young, ambitious lawyers, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington.
In 1971, at the age of 21, McCorvey became pregnant for the third time. Her first-born, a daughter, was removed from her care and lived with McCorvey's mother. Her second child was placed for adoption. When she became pregnant for the third time, she despaired. Homeless and unemployed, she "simply didn't want to be pregnant." Enter Sarah Weddington.
Two years out of law school, Weddington yearned for a chance to challenge the Texas law that banned abortions. Weddington had become involved in the "women's liberation" movement and legalized-abortion cause while in college and law school. Her own abortion in Mexico further heightened her activism in this area. She was well-connected to several groups that operated on the campus of the University of Texas (Austin), which espoused liberalizing abortion laws. One such group, known as the "Referral Project," regularly investigated illegal abortion centers in Mexico and directed pregnant American women to the more sanitary ones. When Weddington decided to pursue a lawsuit against the Texas anti-abortion law, she approached the Referral Project because she needed to find a Texas woman who was pregnant and wanted an abortion, and who would be willing to be a plaintiff. She said that several women who came to the referral project for information indicated they would be happy to help, but they were all at an early s tage of pregnancy and had the money to get a prompt abortion. This was "certainly the safest route for them. We did not know how long it would take to get the case filed or how long it would take the court to act. Our search would have to continue."
Apparently, the search was for a woman without resources or connections, whose safety was of secondary importance. When Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee met Norma McCorvey and described their aim, Norma agreed to be the plaintiff. This was not for philosophical reasons, but for a practical one: she wanted an abortion, and she thought the lawyers would help her get one. The initial meeting set the stage for a relationship in which Norma McCorvey was repeatedly manipulated, denied crucial information and, when she was no longer necessary to the success of the effort, cast aside. Weddington did not tell McCorvey where to obtain an illegal abortion in Mexico and misrepresented the time frame involved in settling the case. She failed to tell McCorvey that the lawsuit was amended to a class action suit, thus rendering moot the resolution of McCorvey's particular circumstances. Weddington readily admits that the case was never about Jane Roe, who was merely "the vehicle for presenting the larger issues."
Not until the case was decided in her favor by the Texas courts did McCorvey realize that she had been duped. By that time, she was six months pregnant and it was too late to get an abortion. McCorvey reacted with anger: "Hadn't they done this to me? Hadn't they led me on, let me think that I could get an abortion and then, when everything was going fine for them when they had got what they wanted, they just said 'sorry' as they told me that my world had fallen in?"
McCorvey placed the baby for adoption and returned to her world enveloped in anonymity. Weddington went on to argue the case in front of the Supreme Court and devoted herself to a career of public speaking. She served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and held a position in Jimmy Carter's administration.
McCorvey eventually shed the cloak of anonymity and proclaimed her part in the Roe v. Wade decision. She began speaking out, lobbying for abortion bills and working in an abortion clinic. Yet she was never wel-corned by the established leaders of the abortion cause. To them, she was "a nuisance, an embarrassment."
Recently, Norma McCorvey turned her back on the abortion industry and the abortion cause. She quit her job at a Dallas abortion clinic, was baptized by a leader of Operation Rescue, and proclaimed, "I have always been prolife. I just didn't know it." The turnabout does not come as a complete surprise. In recent years, McCorvey had begun to recognize the deceptions practiced on her that had led to Roe.
A study of the circumstances of Roe, as provided in these two books, offers a great deal of insight into the legacy of legalized abortion.
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|Publication:||Studies in Prolife Feminism|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1995|
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