NPR misses the symbolism — and reality — of Jane Roe

NPR had a story on the Texas legislature passing what journalists usually call “sweeping abortion restrictions.” Let’s look at a big chunk of the story right at the top:

“What this does is completely reshape the abortion landscape in the state,” says Elizabeth Nash, who follows state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group. “With this legislation, Texas will become one of the most restrictive states in the country. And Texas really matters.”

First, Texas is the second most populous state in the nation, with four major cities and 5.5 million women of reproductive age. It also has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.

And symbolically, Texas was home to Jane Roe, whose fight for a legal abortion went all the way to the Supreme Court — which decided in 1973 that abortion is a woman’s fundamental right under the Constitution.

Under the new law, abortion doctors must get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals; abortion clinics must upgrade to surgical centers; abortion-inducing pills can only be taken when a physician is present; and abortions would be banned 20 weeks after fertilization.

Well, kudos to NPR for actually describing these “sweeping” restrictions, however briefly. But did you catch that bit about Jane Roe? Texas matters because Jane Roe came from here? And hers was the case that decided that legalized abortion is a fundamental right under the Constitution?

And then on we are to the next line without mentioning some crucial information.

I like the idea of including “Jane Roe” and her symbolism in a story about Texas’ move to change the abortion regime in that state. She might be the perfect symbol of what this battle in Texas says about our country’s messy views on abortion. But, as the reader who submitted this story put it:

What a way to spin.  How convenient to ignore that “Jane Roe” was the assumed name of Norma McCorvey, who is now outspokenly pro-life, and who has made it clear that she was used by pro-abortionists who wanted to push their agenda. Even Wikipedia notes this.

It’s amazingly convenient and misses the real, the ultimate symbolism of this Texas woman. There are even religion ghosts all over her story. Let’s go ahead and look at the portion of her Wikipedia entry dealing with her views on abortion:

[In 1994] she converted to Christianity and expressed remorse for her part in the Supreme Court decision. McCorvey has worked as part of the pro-life movement, such as Operation Rescue.

At a signing of I Am Roe, McCorvey was befriended by evangelical minister Flip Benham.[13] She was baptized on August 8, 1995, by Benham in a Dallas, Texas, backyard swimming pool, an event that was filmed for national television. Two days later she announced that she had become an advocate of Operation Rescue’s campaign to make abortion illegal.

McCorvey’s second book, Won by Love, was published in 1998. She explained her change on the stance of abortion with the following comments:

I was sitting in O.R.’s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. ‘Norma’, I said to myself, ‘They’re right’. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth — that’s a baby!

I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It wasn’t about ‘missed periods’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion — at any point — was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.[4]

Shortly thereafter, McCorvey released a statement that affirmed her entrance into the Roman Catholic Church, and she has been confirmed into the church as a full member.[14][15]

… On August 17, 1998, she was received into the Catholic Church by Father Frank Pavone, the International Director of Priests for Life and Father Edward Robinson in Dallas.[15]

Even before her conversion, she had extremely negative things to say about how some people in the abortion rights movement had used her.

Jane Roe is a real person, much more than a pawn to be used to advance an agenda or particular journalistic narrative. Yes, Roe v. Wade was decided based on her story. Her story now includes quite a bit more information. She wasn’t just refused an abortion. She gave birth to a child for whom she made an adoption plan. She converted not just to Christianity but to its pro-life movement as well. Yes, Jane Roe herself now believes unborn children should be protected by law. You simply can’t leave that out of a story.

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  • Daniel F. Crawford

    Of course, you can leave Jane Roe’s conversion out of an NPR abortion story. NPR’s never suggested there might be an issue with abortion since it consistently makes it clear that the intent of any of their abortion stories is to support the “right” of a woman to abort the whatever-it-is in the womb.

    • tmatt

      I am uncomfortable with the statement that ALL NPR coverage on this topic fits this mold, since I have heard some accurate, balanced stories there. Religion is a very inconsistently covered topic at NPR and it also helps to separate opinion content from news content.

    • HoboBanana

      Daniel, by your standard, I could fully castrate you as a method of controlling your reproductive activities, and you wouldn’t have any right to complain. Are you all right with that? If so, I can think of several places in the world to suggest to you where it could be done. If not, then don’t go controlling *other* people’s reproductive activities or desire NOT to reproduce.

      Also, what’s your position on birth control pills? If you want to reduce abortions, you should both approve of birth control pills and the need to drill/train/drill in their proper use to prevent the need for abortions, right?

      • Daniel F. Crawford

        I’m amazed at your capacity to leap to conclusions. My complaint is that NPR has never suggested (at least in the news programs, talk shows, and opinion pieces I’ve heard) that there might be moral issues involved in the abortion debate other than the “right” to dispose of the whatever-it-is in the womb. My comment has to do with the news stories – what are you reacting to?

  • opinionatedcatholic

    Well that is an interesting thought.

    The big Supreme Court Cases that have shaped our legal history are known and indeed made personal by names of the parties. Plessy Vs Fergurson ! Loving v. Virginia , and The New York Times V The United States in the famous Pentagon paper case.

    Now I think it would be newsworthy years later if Mr Plessy had decided that State Louisiana separate train accommodations based on race was later a alright idea. It would have been news if the Loving couple decided you know maybe different races should not marry. It also would have been news if years later the New York Times took the opposite position on Freedom of the Press than it it did in the Pentagon Papers case.

    SO yeah that this is taking place in Texas these seems an obvious and important news angle to remind peple of. Roe herself very much symbolizes in a strong way some shifting attitudes even from that generation

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    “abortion-inducing pills can only be taken when a physician is present”

    It’s my understanding that this is because when taking pills to induce a medical abortion (a) it’s done in two parts – one in the clinic and one later at home and (b) you need a physician to dispense these because he or she also needs to write you a prescription for painkillers like Vicodin – some women have little pain, some women have extreme pain, so to be sure, prescription (rather than over the counter) painkillers are given as well.

    I mean, you don’t want secretarial or non-medical staff either writing prescriptions for, or dispensing, prescription medication, especially medication that can be sold for illegal purposes – do you? If this is the kind of “sweeping restriction” that clinics presently don’t undergo, I can see why Kermit Gosnell (yes, that name again) was busted on charges of selling prescription drugs out of his clinic.

  • Brett

    I agree that if you frame the sentence as written and make reference to the woman who brought the case, mentioning that she later became active on the pro-life side of the issue is appropriate. It might have been better to have said that the case reached the Supreme Court through the U.S. District Court of Dallas County.

  • HoboBanana

    Yeah, now that ‘Jane Roe’/Norma McCorvey had the abortion that *she* wanted, AND is past the age of being able to conceive, she’s become all sociopathically sanctimonious. She’s probably another one of the anti-abortion protesters who: Need an abortion, Travel far away from their home area or come in the back door of the clinic, And *then* go back to protesting as though it hadn’t happened. Like I said, socipathically sanctimonious. See “The Only Moral Abortion is MY Abortion” ( http://www.prochoiceactionnetwork-canada.org/articles/anti-tales.shtml ) for how I view McCorvey and those of her ilk.

    • Guest

      I think you missed the part about where she had the child, and had a plan for adoption of the child after she gave birth.

    • Annie Jean

      Read it again, for comprehension this time, Ms. McCorvey didn’t have the abortion, the child lived and was given up for adoption.


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