This ‘Roe’ Obituary Should Make Pro-Choicers Rethink Their Loyalty

Nobody wants to belong to a movement that degrades and lies about the dead to advance its cause.

By Stephen Herreid Published on February 24, 2017

Norma McCorvey, known as “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, passed away last week at the age of 69. She dedicated the last two decades of her life to overturning the ruling. Abortion advocates, of course, disagree with McCorvey’s pro-life mission. But the dishonest way in which one media outlet covered her death should even give some pro-choicers pause.

After all, even if one isn’t convinced of the humanity of the unborn, nobody wants to belong to a movement that degrades and lies about the dead to advance its cause. And that’s just what one prominent obituary did.

Publicly Useful to Roe v. Wade, but Personally Untrustworthy and Unimportant

In the obituary, published by The Washington Post on the day of McCorvey’s passing, author Emily Langer emphasizes McCorvey’s desire for an abortion, disparages her well known pro-life advocacy, downplays her Catholicism, and denigrates her character. What is more, Langer does not include a single quotation from any of McCorvey’s family or close pro-life friends and colleagues.

The Washington Post does not include a single quotation from any of McCorvey’s family or close pro-life friends and colleagues.

A sentence about McCorvey’s “stunning reversal” and collusion with “the cause’s fiercest critics as a born-again Christian” is quickly followed by a “but,” with the implication that her pro-life convictions are impossible to verify: “But … she remained an enigma, as difficult to know as she was when she shielded her identity behind the name Jane Roe.”

After all, even McCorvey “admitted that she peddled misinformation about herself, lying about even the most crucial juncture in her life,” Langer cautions. “For years, she claimed that the Roe pregnancy was the result of a rape” before saying in 1987 that her pregnancy had been the result of “what I thought was love.”

But the real protagonist here isn’t McCorvey but the pro-abortion movement, so Langer dismisses “details of her account” as “legally unimportant,” though “abortion foes” used “the lie to discredit Ms. McCorvey” and the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade.

Dragging McCorvey Through the Mud

From here on, Langer consistently describes the Roe v. Wade decision in positive terms (“a watershed for women in general”), and McCorvey in muddying, dismissive terms (Roe v. Wade was “irrelevant for Ms. McCorvey” who at any rate had already passed her “due-date” and given birth by the time of the ruling).

In a single paragraph dedicated to the “most sympathetic tellings of her story,” Langer writes that McCorvey “was a victim of abuse, financial hardship, drug and alcohol addiction, and personal frailty” who spent most of her life switching between odd jobs. She had a “measure of stability” for a while with a lesbian partner, “but even that relationship reportedly ended in bitterness after 35 years.”

Then follow several paragraphs that serve mostly to cast the pro-life champion in a foolish and even sleazy light.

“Harsher judgments presented Ms. McCorvey as a user who trolled for attention and cash,” Langer writes. “Abortion rights activists questioned her motives when Ms. McCorvey decamped in 1994,” becoming a Christian and warming up to the pro-life movement.

McCorvey was baptized, Langer makes sure to mention, “in a swimming pool.” Even the minister who baptized her later said “that he had come to see Ms. McCorvey as someone who ‘just fishes for money,’” Langer reports.

Blatant Lie: McCorvey Regretted NOT Having an Abortion

Langer bluntly refers to giving birth as one of “several undesirable options” available to impoverished women who found themselves pregnant before Roe v. Wade. “Years later, Ms. McCorvey expressed bitterness at what she described as her attorneys’ unwillingness to help her find what she needed — an abortion, even an illegal one.”

Lest readers dismiss this point in light of McCorvey’s later pro-life advocacy, Langer is quick to add that McCorvey’s attorneys never believed in her pro-life conversion. One went so far as to sneer that it was a totally cynical move and not a change of heart. McCorvey just “really craved and sought attention.”

Langer skims over virtually all McCorvey’s later years as a Catholic and a pro-life advocate in one short paragraph:

She wrote another memoir, Won By Love (1997), with co-author Gary Thomas, founded the Dallas-based Roe No More ministry and reportedly became a Catholic. She participated in antiabortion protests and was arrested in 2009 for disrupting the Senate confirmation hearings on Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

This summary is followed by a single condescendingly kind quotation from pro-abortion activist Gloria Allred, who admitted upper-crust pro-abortion feminists had excluded McCorvey after she served her purpose in Roe v. Wade. At “many national pro-choice celebrations,” she “attended but for the most part she was not invited …When she did speak … she was really very eloquent, not well-educated but speaking from the heart …”

“‘Neither side was ever willing to accept her for who she was,’” Langer claims with a heavy-handed citation of “historian David J. Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and the author …” And quoting another author: “By 2013 … Ms. McCorvey was relying on ‘free room and board from strangers.’”

In one, final outrageous flourish, the obituary concludes with a 23-year-old quotation, in which McCorvey laments not aborting her first child: “I just never had the privilege to go into an abortion clinic, lay down and have an abortion. That’s the only thing I never had.”

Does WaPo Owe McCorvey’s Family and Friends an Apology?

If Emily Langer had any reverence for the dead, or even a modicum of professional courtesy, her obituary would at least have included the perspective of McCorvey’s family, friends, and colleagues. Even CNN’s brief report of McCorvey’s death named Fr. Frank Pavone, the priest who brought the late pro-life activist into the Catholic faith, as the one who confirmed her passing.

It’s clear that the Post’s obituary is not designed to commemorate the deceased pro-life champion at all, but the Roe v. Wade decision she abhorred.

CNN also prominently featured McCorvey’s famous pledge: “I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.”

Aside from Fr. Pavone, National Director of the pro-life organization Priests for Life, several other pro-life leaders who were close to McCorvey also publicly shared memories and condolences at the passing of their friend. The Washington Post made no mention of them.

McCorvey’s family released their own statement the day after they lost their mother. It’s impossible not to notice the sharp contrast between the slanted obituary above and the gentle sentiments they express:

We are … grateful to so many people across America and around the world who, in these days, are expressing their condolences, their prayers, and their gratitude for the example Mom gave them in standing up for life and truth. Though she was the Jane Roe of Roe vs. Wade, she worked hard for the day when that decision would be reversed.

It’s clear that The Washington Post’s obituary is not designed to commemorate the deceased pro-life champion at all, but the Roe v. Wade decision she abhorred. In death as in life, Norma McCorvey is not treated as a person, but only as an empty rhetorical device for advancing the culture of death.

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