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The Confession of Jane Roe (Highlights the Lies Told by Anti-Abortion Crusaders)

The Confession of Jane Roe (Highlights the Lies Told by Anti-Abortion Crusaders) May 19, 2020

Hi y’all! Originally, I’d planned to write today about Al Mohler, but he can wait. Instead, let’s turn our attention briefly to the long, long list of anti-choice lies told by Christians seeking to criminalize abortion. This culture war has turned into fundagelicals’ most successful ever. But it’s been marked by the beginning by a mind-blowing amount of dishonesty on evangelicals’ part. Today, I want to show you a recent story highlighting evangelicals’ dishonesty. Norma McCorvey, the ‘Jane Roe’ of the entire Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Case, has confessed that evangelicals bribed her to become an anti-abortion crusader. 

SCOTUS building
(Jeff Kubina, CC-SA.)

(Previous posts highlighting the disgusting hypocrisy and disturbing dishonesty of anti-abortion crusaders: Yes, the Crisis Pregnancy Center Video is True; How I Briefly Became a Pro-Choice Pentecostal; The Alternate Reality of Christian Pseudoscience; Becoming a Volunteer at a Fake Abortion Clinic; The Pseudoscience of the Crisis Pregnancy Center; When Your Position Depends Upon Lying.)

The Landmark Case.

Roe v. Wade was a landmark case decided by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in 1973. However, its story began in 1969.

In it, “Jane Roe” (a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey that was meant to protect her safety and anonymity) lived in Texas. In her state at the time, women couldn’t obtain abortions except to save their lives. Initially, Roe had tried to claim that rape had caused the pregnancy. If successful, the ruse would have earned her the desired abortion — but it wasn’t. (Later, she’d admit the claim was simply untrue.)

Roe had already had two children and really didn’t want to have a third. So she sued her local district attorney, Henry Wade. Her lawyers alleged that Texas’ abortion laws were unconstitutional. Then, those lawyers appealed the case all the way to SCOTUS.

In January 1973, SCOTUS ruled (7-2) that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed all Americans a right to privacy, which included the right to choose whether or not they’d remain pregnant. But this being the 1970s, men still weren’t comfortable with the idea of women having access to the same full slate of human rights that men have without even thinking about it. So they decided that sometimes, states needed to intervene with women’s right to choose pregnancy or abortion.

They tied that intervention to trimesters of pregnancy. In the first trimester, states couldn’t interfere at all with women’s right to privacy. Women’s right to privacy declined with each successive trimester. SCOTUS also decided that the right to abortion is fundamental, which means that there’s way more scrutiny applied to any attempt states make to destroy or chip away at it.

And that’s good, because almost immediately this newly-accessible right entered the crosshairs of religious crusaders.

SIDEBAR: Yes, It’s a Human Right.

Abortion, as a procedure, integrates and affirms a vast number of human rights. Here’s the short list of them from Human Rights Watch, and they have citations and explanations for each one:

Abortion is riskiest and most dangerous in areas that don’t recognize or protect these rights, and even the few legal abortions these areas allow become more risky and difficult to obtain (as Dr. Savita Halappanavar discovered — she needed a therapeutic abortion for her second-trimester pregnancy in 2012, but Irish doctors dithered so much about the matter that she died of septic shock before she could obtain care).

There is this, too, and it relates mightily to just how many human rights get wrapped up in abortion care:

Whenever and wherever abortion rights are restricted, people suffer — and not all of those people are women. Men, too, face mistreatment and victimization when their government ignores or negates human rights for women. They’re just usually very low-ranking men in that society, so their Dear Leaders don’t care.

Similarly, anti-abortion laws usually hit poor and low-status women in the shorts, while wealthier and higher-status women can escape those laws and obtain the care they need. So yeah, there’s definitely a classist, sexist, racist tinge to these laws.

A rising tide — or a falling one — affects all boats.

Before the Culture War.

Obviously, this case became a big huge deal in American society. Catholics had opposed abortion almost from the get-go, though Protestants usually supported the right of women to obtain this care. Even the Southern Baptist Convention itself did, as they affirmed in 1971 in their typically nattering-busybody fashion:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that this Convention express the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother

When I was just becoming Protestant myself in the mid-1980s, I noticed that my new tribe usually regarded Catholics as very weird for their repressive stances regarding sexuality.

Boy, we just had no idea what was already coming our way.

Needing a New Culture War.

Even then, my then-tribe’s opinions were being formed and shaped by evangelical forces seeking to capitalize on the flocks’ gullibility, their trust in and obedience to their leaders, and their utterly tribalistic mindset.

Evangelical leaders expended quite a lot of effort to persuade their flocks to become very politicized. The ultimate goal was for evangelicals to begin voting for the correct candidates who’d hand evangelical leaders a whole lot of power.

And they’d failed time and again trying to bring about this desired change.

Pushing for segregation and fighting integration had worked great for a while, but only in the Deep South and among die-hard evangelicals who were still fighting the Civil War in their hearts. And the writing on the wall for these causes was crystal-clear. In 1976, the IRS finally made a definitive ruling on segregated fundagelical schools — and not in these schools’ favor. If they wanted to remain tax-free, they had to stop discriminating against people of color (POC).

So evangelicals needed a new cause, one that provided an effective smokescreen for their true desire for a totalitarian and regressive political safe-zone in America.

I’m stressing here that what they came up with isn’t about Jesus or even about saving pweshus baybeez. It’s about evangelicals’ cold, hard opportunism and greed, and nothing more.

Creating a New Culture War (is Hard, Y’all).

Activists tried out a lot of other causes that evangelicals rejected, one after the other. In fact, here’s a very short list from Politico of causes trotted out by Paul Weyrich, an important conservative activist of the time:

  • Anti-pornography
  • Forced prayer in schools
  • Fighting the Equal Rights Amendment
  • Abortion (yes, it failed too, initially)

Weyrich fretted.

What cause could he create that’d work?

What would all but force evangelicals to reliably move to voting booths?

How oh how could he induce them to vote for Republican candidates who’d then play ball with conservatives like himself?

Finding a New Cause At Last.

By 1978, abortion began looking like a good option.

It’d failed once, but that’d been earlier. Now, suddenly, some Republicans who’d pushed their opposition to abortion won both vacant Senate seats and the gubernatorial election in Minnesota. In Iowa, an incumbent Democratic candidate considered an easy win lost — to an anti-abortion Republican challenger. Both states’ Republicans won their seats largely thanks to Catholic culture warriors’ activism.

Weyrich began writing evangelical leaders and fellow conservatives — like Jerry Falwell, Robert Billings, Daniel B. Hales, and most of all Francis A. Schaeffer (père).

Together, they began to put together some strategies that demonized supporters of abortion rights, mis-represented exactly what abortion was and exactly what happened during abortion procedures, tried to gross people out so they’d react under stress, and most of all tied support of abortion to godless secularism.

Forty years later, evangelicals still use many of the strategies those men created.

The Creation of Jane Roe, Abortion Opponent.

By the time Roe got decided, Jane Roe had already had the baby in question and adopted it out. She also became involved romantically with another woman.

But she shocked everyone by suddenly revealing her real identity as Norma McCorvey — and also revealed that she’d magically converted to fundagelical Christianity, changed her mind about abortion, and now wanted the world to know she utterly opposed this human right.

This, too, played right into the tactics of the Religious Right, who sought to use big names to destroy confidence in human rights. Well gosh, went the thinking, if Jane Roe herself didn’t like abortion rights anymore, then well golly, maybe they’re just not a good thing!

She began campaigning tirelessly against abortion rights in the 1990s, probably right after my deconversion. Since my tribe’s by-then bitter opposition to abortion rights eventually became the catalyst for my own deconversion, I noticed when she began pinging the nation’s radar.

My former tribal leaders began parading around her name, picture, and now-vehement opposition to abortion — like she was a newborn baby at a family reunion. For a while there, she was everywhere. She attended rallies, gave interviews, the whole nine yards.

It was one of those miraculous-looking turnarounds that evangelicals love to point to as PROOF YES PROOF that Jesus totes changes people.

Her Story.

To hear McCorvey tell it, she’d just seen the light about abortion, is all. She’d realized she was in the wrong, and now she just wanted to help stop millions of other women from making the same dire mistake she had.

According to The Daily Beast’s story about it, two evangelical leaders had ushered her into the fold: Flip Benham of Operation Rescue and Rob Schenck, a pastor activist against abortion. (See this utterly and totally unrelated endnote for an old memory.)

Schenck’s personal blog reveals quite a lot about his encounters with Norma McCorvey. There, he tells us that Benham baptized her in his backyard pool in 1995, and immediately afterward anti-abortion activists began using her to flog their cause. As for Schenck himself, he helped break her up with her longtime beloved partner Connie Gonzalez because he thought back then that being gay was a sin. It’s a heartbreaking blog entry for reasons we’ll get into momentarily.

The obvious problem these activists had is that human rights do not depend on public approval or celebrity endorsement. Even someone who once benefited from access to that right and now opposes it cannot negate its existence and importance. McCorvey’s sudden about-face didn’t change anything.

All the same, when I first heard about her I remember wondering how evangelical leaders had gotten to her — how they’d snowed her and manipulated her into reversing course from being a firm supporter of human rights to someone who could speak so callously against them.

I knew something had happened, but didn’t know what exactly it was.

What Actually Happened.

My question turned out to have an elementary answer:

Fundagelicals had been paying Norma McCorvey to say all that stuff, coaching her about exactly what to say, and carefully shepherding her around to big events and media circuses to lie about having seen da light.

That’s about it, really.

In a bombshell news report that’s going around everywhere as I write this post, McCorvey’s self-proclaimed “deathbed confession” has become public. She told Nick Sweeney, a documentary filmmaker of AKA Jane Roe, the whole story. The Daily Beast brings us part of that interview:

Sweeney asks McCorvey, “Did [the evangelicals] use you as a trophy?” “Of course,” she replies. “I was the Big Fish.” “Do you think you would say that you used them?” Sweeney responds. “Well,” says McCorvey, “I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say. That’s what I’d say.” She even gives an example of her scripted anti-abortion lines. “I’m a good actress,” she points out. “Of course, I’m not acting now.”

OUCH.

How much money?

LOTS.

Sweeney found documents disclosing over USD$450k in “benevolent gifts” made to McCorvey over the years by anti-abortion groups.

But then again, not enough by far. Schenck mentions in a few news sources that the money McCorvey got was always unsatisfactory to her. In his blog, he notes that sometimes he gave her extra money, but it never felt like enough for the work she was doing for anti-abortion crusaders. I guess we can characterize the amount as more than she’d have been able to get ordinarily and honestly, but less than that kind of work usually requires.

Reactions.

Sweeney’s shown McCorvey’s confession to all kinds of people. Many, to their credit, were deeply disturbed by what they saw.

Robert Schenck, the pastor who broke her up with her beloved partner, seems to have felt particularly bad about helping push along her new narrative. In The Daily Beast’s writeup, he confesses:

“I had never heard her say anything like this… But I knew what we were doing. And there were times when I was sure she knew. And I wondered, Is she playing us? What I didn’t have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we’re playing her.”

His blog entry reveals his anguish when he co-officiated her funeral at her family’s request:

Words I didn’t use–but should have–were wounded, exploited, abused—because I hadn’t come to terms with my role as a perpetrator of those injuries on Norma’s mind and soul. In the film, I admit Norma was for me a kind of trophy—a beloved one—but a trophy none-the-less. We held her up, showed her off, paraded her around. What we didn’t do was listen deeply to her pain and beg her pardon for objectifying her.

Others, of course, saw nothing wrong at all with paying McCorvey to badmouth abortion rights.

Flip Benham, who’s long made a living as an anti-abortion activist, refuses to admit that McCorvey was ever anything but an enthusiastic activist operating under his wing. He stoutly characterized his group’s payments to her as a paycheck for what he called “work.” I guess he’s never heard that famous saying about paychecks.

And at least two pro-choice activists almost wept at the sheer duplicity revealed in Sweeney’s interview. One got detailed in The Daily Beast. 

The other, though hardly of mickle importance, is writing this post.

Losing Their Mascots.

As usual, culture warriors have really bad luck with mascots. And they’ve bled a few important ones over the years in their fight against legalized abortion.

 

Robert Schenck. A decade ago, he had an epiphany about the damage he was doing to human rights. He is no longer a culture warrior. In fact, he now fully supports human rights. He now feels great remorse for his role in demonizing abortion.

Paul Weyrich. The activist who started it all now thinks Republicans should drop their anti-abortion plank entirely. In an article for Questia, he declared that Republicans’ opposition to abortion is not “about principle; it’s about power, pandering and politics.” In addition, he recognized that the organized fight against legalized abortion “really isn’t about reducing abortion.” He’s right on both counts.

Norma McCorvey. The Daily Beast ends by quoting her acceptance of human rights:

“If a young woman wants to have an abortion—fine,” she says, coloring in the nursing home. “That’s no skin off my ass. You know, that’s why they call it ‘choice.’ It’s your choice.”

Why yes, yes it damned well is.

And y’all, that sounds like the best possible way to end this post.

NEXT UP: We look at the dumb thing Al Mohler said that accidentally highlighted the major problem with evangelicals’ idolatry of the Bible.


Endnotes.

About the name “Flip” – I’m suddenly remembering that my dear second pastor’s wife had a nearly-antediluvian Siamese cat called Flip. I adored that cat, even though he had no use at all for any human who wasn’t Sulane. Now I wonder if “Flip” was a popular Southern nickname for Boomers, like “Beaver,” “Herc,” “Skip,” and “Sis,” all of which can be found in my extended family tree. (Back to the post!)


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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