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‘Jane Roe’ Joins Anti-Abortion Forces

August 11, 1995 GMT

DALLAS (AP) _ Norma McCorvey, the ``Jane Roe″ whose historic Supreme Court battle won the right for women to have abortions, has joined Operation Rescue.

After months of soul-searching, McCorvey also was baptized by the anti-abortion group’s leader, even though she says she still supports abortion in some cases.

``We’ve had two generations of women _ well, almost three generations now _ of women who have grown up with Roe vs. Wade,″ she said Thursday of the 1973 landmark ruling. ``They have literally been handed the right to slaughter their own children.″

McCorvey was baptized Tuesday night by the Rev. Philip ``Flip″ Benham, the fundamentalist preacher who leads Operation Rescue. The baptism was done in a backyard swimming pool at the home of a couple in Garland, with about 35 of McCorvey’s friends looking on.

``It was a small little service ... and there was weeping and there was great joy and praising,″ Benham said.

He and McCorvey had become friends in recent months, after his group moved its office next door to the clinic where she worked.

She said in an interview that she still believes ``a woman has a right to have an abortion, a safe and legal abortion, in the first trimester,″ meaning the first three months of pregnancy.

``I will not support a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion in the second trimester,″ she said. Second-trimester abortions are legal, although third-trimester abortions have been outlawed in some states.

McCorvey resigned Saturday as marketing director at A Choice For Women, a Dallas clinic that has been a frequent target of anti-abortion demonstrations. She is now a filing clerk for Operation Rescue, but said she would not participate in its demonstrations.

``Jesus Christ has reached through the abortion mill wall and touched the heart of Norma McCorvey,″ Benham said.

McCorvey said she was not pressured into her gradual change of heart.

``I didn’t get up this morning and say, `Oh, well I’m just going to be pro-life today and not be Jane Roe anymore. I’ve been thinking about this for months now,″ she said.

She had become increasingly dissatisfied with what she felt was an undue emphasis on abortion at the clinic where she worked. She also told ABC News that she felt she had been used by abortion rights groups. By the same token, she said she will not allow herself to be used by the anti-abortion movement.

``There will not be any exploitation of my political status,″ she said Thursday on ``Nightline.″ ``I’ve already been exploited enough to last a lifetime.″

A woman who answered the telephone at the clinic today declined to comment, saying the clinic’s owner was out of town.

Feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, who has represented McCorvey in the past, said the abortion rights movement did treat McCorvey poorly, often excluding her from speaking events. She would not elaborate on why.

Operation Rescue moved its national headquarters March 31 into an office adjoining the abortion clinic where McCorvey worked. At the time, McCorvey said she was ``horrified″ and concerned about possible violence.

But in recent months, Benham and McCorvey became friends. He called her ``Miss Norma.″ She called him ``Flipper.″

In her 1994 book, ``I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade, and Freedom of Choice,″ McCorvey chronicles how her life changed forever when she agreed in 1970 to become the plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Texas’ anti-abortion statute.

She was a 21-year-old carnival barker when she got pregnant for the third time, in a casual affair. The Supreme Court decision came too late for her, however, and she put the infant up for adoption.

Her autobiography also reveals she is a lesbian and details much of her difficult life, including years spent in reform school, being raped while a teen-ager and a marriage at 16 that ended soon after, while she was pregnant. She talks of periods when she sold drugs for a living, tended bar in gay hangouts and worked in a carnival.

Benham also had a rocky past. He said he was a recovering alcoholic, and had been a saloon owner in Florida when he found religion and entered a seminary. After moving to Dallas, Benham traded a steady pulpit for his full-time crusade against abortion.

Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued Roe vs. Wade before the nation’s highest court, was sorry to hear of McCorvey’s change of heart. But she predicted it would have little effect on the abortion debate or the mood in the Republican-led Congress to reverse some of the gains of the abortion rights movement.

``The truth is what really matters is what the judges on the Supreme Court think, what people in elected office think and what average citizens think _ and I don’t think this news about Jane Roe will change one mind,″ she said.

Kate Michelman, president of National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, agreed.

``That is her right and one that we fight for,″ Michelman said of McCorvey’s decision. ``But the Roe decision that recognized the woman’s right of choice is not about any single individual woman. It’s about the freedom of all women to make a personal choice about abortion.″

Bill Price, the head of the Dallas-based Texans United for Life, said McCorvey’s change of heart could mean more than that.

``The poster child has jumped off the poster,″ he said.