If you haven’t yet heard, Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” in Roe v. Wade, died today. She came to fame as a rape victim who, claimed abortion proponents, should have been allowed an abortion. After the Supreme Court decision, McCorvey became an abortion rights activist.
McCorvey also made her life story public and a terrible life it was, one of poverty, abuse (including being raped as a child), broken marriages, sexual confusion, drugs, and alcohol. Faith finally saved her and, with that faith, she came to realize that human life has value.
Norma McCorvey spent the last two decades of her life campaigning for the pro-Life movement. That is, with age, wisdom, peace, and chemical detox, she abandoned the belief system she’d developed during a twisted, impoverished, chemically-altered, depressed, deeply abused youth.
The above is a very short precis of a complicated and consequential life. I may be wrong, but I think the trajectory that took her to the place at which she ended is just as important as the point from which she started. The New York Times does not agree with me.
If you’re wondering why I turned to the Times obituary for Norma McCorvey, I did it both because the Times often does obituaries very well and because I was curious about how the Times would cover McCorvey’s inconvenient ideological conversion. Perhaps if Margalit Fox had written the obituary, it might have been different, because she’s a genuine talent. The assignment, however, ended in a lesser writer’s hands.
The obituary is 41 paragraphs long, so you can assume that most readers will give up about 10 to 20 paragraphs in. Keep that in mind as you read the following, which briefly summarizes each paragraph’s contents. Also, to give you a visual sense about the Times’ heroic effort to downplay the fact that Norma McCorvey eventually found emotional peace in the pro-Life movement, I’ll highlight in red all of the references to the last twenty years of her life’s work. I’ve also included my own commentaries in square brackets.
Para. 1 — Identifies who Norma McCorvey was — a central figure in the divisive abortion debate — and announces her death at 69.
Para. 2 — Cause and location of death.
Para. 3 — 50 million legal abortions performed since 1973, although “although later court decisions and new state and federal laws have imposed restrictions.” [Bookworm here: This sentence implies that the pro-Life movement has significantly moved the dial at a judicial and legislative level. The reality is that Roe v. Wade itself imposed significant restrictions on abortion relating to the development of the fetus: in the first trimester, the woman controls completely; in the second, there’s a balancing act; and in the third, the state has the greatest interest. Later decisions did away with that. No statute has successfully returned abortion to the original Roe v. Wade limitations.] In the same paragraph, the author states “abortions have declined with the wide use of contraceptives.
Para. 4 — McCovey an almost mythological figure who never wanted the spotlight. “[p]ulled by the forces of politics to one side of the abortion conflict, then by religion to the other.” [Bookworm here: This is the first mention of the last 20 years of her life and it is so opaque only the knowing reader would understand that McCorvey spent the last 20 years of her life as a principled pro-Life activist.]