The Conversion of Miss Norma

Norma McCorvey could outcuss the crassest men; she could outdrink many of the Dallas taverns’ regulars; she was known for her hot temper. When pro-lifers called her a murderer, she called them worse. When people held up signs of aborted fetuses, Norma spit in their faces.

by Gary Thomas

After all, she has a reputation to protect. As the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, Norma’s life was inextricable tied up with abortion. Though she had never had one, abortion was the sun around which Norma’s life orbited. She once told a reporter, "This issue is the only thing I live for. I live, eat, breathe, think everything about abortion."

Then the fiery pro-life group Operation Rescue moved in next door.

Love in the clashes
Founded by Randall Terry, Operation Rescue made international headlines in the late eighties by staging "sit-ins" at abortion clinics across the United States. Almost immediately, the pro-life movement was split between those who supported OR and those who thought they were doing more harm than good. Terry stepped down from OR in 1990, and was succeeded by Keith Tucci. Flip Benham, a brash and bold leader, became director in 1994. By this time, federal legislation and extreme penalties for a first-time offense made the well-attended rescues largely a thing of the past. OR’s influence was clearly on the wane, but their move next door to Norma’s abortion clinic, A Choice for Women, would change that overnight.

Norma called Flip Benham, Flip "Venom." Flip called Norma "responsible for the deaths of 35 million children." Their offices shared a common wall in a building off the LBJ highway in the Lake Highlands area of North Dallas.

The Dallas police settled down to an almost hourly routine. Sirens and flashing blue lights could be heard and seen several times a day for the next few months as the two sides clashed out in the parking lot.

Occasionally, the clashes would collapse into conversation. During one friendly exchange, Norma goaded Flip, "You need to go to a good Beach Boys concert."

"Miss Norma," Flip answered, "I haven’t been to a Beach Boys concert since 1976."

The innocuous response shook Norma. "All at once," she says, "Flip became human to me. Before, I had thought of (Flip) as a man who did nothing but yell at abortion clinics and read his Bible. The thought that he was a real person-a guy who had once even gone to a Beach Boys concert—never occurred to me. I saw him in a new light." Outside on the bench between their offices, Flip began sharing his past. An unlikely friendship was born.

Other OR volunteers also began reaching out to Norma. In return, Norma explained the mystical powers of her crystals. It wasn’t exactly Elijah and the prophets of Baal, but in their minds it was clearly a case of "may the true God win."

Straight to the heart
God began working on Norma’s heart through a seven-year-old girl named Emily, the daughter of OR volunteer Ronda Mackey. Quite understandable, Norma had difficulty relating to children. She had given birth to three, all of whom had been placed for adoption (one of them against Norma’s will). And because she worked in an abortion clinic, Norma was fearful of bonding with anyone so young. "It was part of my denial," she explains. "When you know what is happening to the children behind closed doors, it’s difficult to become attached to them outside."

Emily’s blatant affection, frequent hugs, and direct pursuit disarmed Norma. The little girl made it clear that she accepted Norma, but not her lifestyle. Early on, Norma explained to Emily, "I like kids and wouldn’t let anyone hurt little kids," to which Emily responded, "Then why do you let them kill the babies at the clinic?"

This childlike innocence cut open Norma’s heart. Over time, Emily began to personify the issue of abortion for Norma-especially when Ronda confessed to Norma that Emily had almost been aborted.

Ronda was engaged when Emily was conceived, and nobody was very happy about the pregnancy. Ronda’s future in-laws, her mother, and her fiancee all pressured her to get an abortion during the first trimester. Ronda admits that she gave abortion serious consideration, until memories of a high-school friend’s emotional devastation following an abortion strengthened her resolve to let Emily live.

Shortly after Ronda told Norma that story, the two went shopping with Ronda’s girls. Norma was stunned when she saw Ronda’s bumper sticker, "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart," which has a vivid, red heart on the side.

Norma saw Emily’s heart in that sticker; it just about destroyed her when she realized that "my law" (as she once fondly referred to Roe v. Wade) made it legal to snuff out young Emily’s life. Norma asked to be taken home immediately.

Norma was forever changed by this experience. For her, abortion was no longer an "abstract right," because it had a face in a little girl named Emily.

Where do I Belong?
Emotionally Norma was ready for a change. Most of the abortion advocacy movement was afraid of her blue collar, tough talking, and unrefined ways. Norma was a poor Louisiana girl who spent a good part of her childhood in reform schools. She ran away from home when she was ten, supporting herself with odd jobs—from carnival barker to construction worker. The abortion movement’s leadership kept as wide a hedge around her as possible, even refusing to invite her to the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Supreme Court decision.

Such a blatant snub had understandable roots. She frequently caught abortion clinic directors off guard by openly questioning the morality of some (particularly late-term) abortions. Norma also believed her attorney, Sarah Weddington, had "dumped" her.

The falling out with Weddington hurt Norma the most. Explains Norma, "I was chosen (to sign the affidavit in the Roe case) because Sarah Weddington needed someone who would sign the paper and fade into the background, never coming out and always keeping silent. As long as I was alive, I was a danger. I might speak out. I could be unpredictable. And I was."

As Norma’s friendship with Benham drew national attention, Norma started receiving even more ridicule from her abortion advocate "friends." She soon found herself increasingly alienated from those on her side of the issue and befriended by her alleged enemies. Before long, Norma started coming to work simply so she could talk to the rescuers, showing up more often than she was scheduled because "I couldn’t wait that long to get one of Emily’s hugs."

Four days a week she and Ronda-not to mention the other rescue volunteers—were best friends, while on the other three days—when abortions were actually performed—they were bitter enemies.

During one abortion-day confrontation, Norma charged up to Ann Hollacher, an OR volunteer, and yelled, "You can’t park on the same place you’re picketing. Move the car!"

"No, I’m not moving my car," Anne responded. "This is our parking lot, too."

Norma called Anne every name she could think of, then she spit in her face.

Anne smiled.

Norma was furious. "How dare you smile at me?" she screamed.

Anne politely wiped the spit off her face. "Jesus loves you, and so do I," she said. "And I forgive you."

Norma suddenly experienced severe chest pains and had to walk away to catch her breath. Five minutes later, Ronda and the girls showed up, the girls eager to give Norma a hug.

The confusion inside Norma became intense. She couldn’t stand the thought of losing Ronda’s friendship, and she wasn’t about to let Emily be taken out of her life. But how long could they maintain a friendship when abortion stood between them?

Tired of being a sinner
"Miss Norma," Emily cooed one afternoon, "it would be so-o-o cool if you would come to church with us."

Norma didn’t want to disappoint Emily directly, so she answered, "Well, Emily, we’ll have to be cool another time. I can’t go to church with you this weekend."

If Norma didn’t want to offend Emily by an abrupt denial, she needn’t have worried. Emily kept asking Norma to come with her to church.

Finally, Norma said yes—not out of sudden need for God in her life, but because she was tired of telling Emily no.

Ronda was skeptical, but when they went to pick up Norma, she was dressed and ready to go. One sermon was all Norma needed. Pastor Morris Sheats of Hillcrest Church ended his sermon with a compelling evangelistic call, asking, "Is anyone here tired of living a sinner’s life.?"

"How could I say no?" Norma recalls. "I had been tired of it for years, but it was the only life I knew!" Norma cautiously raised her hand, then opened her eyes "and looked up to see if that really was my hand raised up high. It was. I couldn’t believe it."

Ronda recalls Norma repeating over and over, "I just want to undo all the evil I’ve done in this world. I’m so sorry, God. I’m so, so sorry. As far as abortion is concerned, I just want to undo it. I want it all to just go away."

Norma stopped crying and broke into the biggest smile of her life.

"I no longer felt the pressure of my sin pushing down on my shoulders," she remembers. "The release was so quick I felt like I could almost float."

When Norma’s conversion became public knowledge, she spoke openly to reporters about still supporting legalized pregnancy termination in the first trimester. The media were quick to use this to downplay the seriousness of Norma’s conversion, saying she typified the "general ambivalence" of our culture over abortion.

But a few weeks later, sitting in OR’s offices, Norma noticed a fetal development poster. "The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet... It hurt my heart, just looking at them."

She ran outside, "Finally, it dawned on me, ‘Norma,’ I said to myself, ‘They’re right.’ I kept seeing the picture of that tiny ten-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, ‘That’s a baby!"

Norma felt "crushed" under the truth of this realization. "I had to face 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. It was painfully clear."

Sold out for Jesus
Two years after her conversion, Norma left Operation Rescue. After a grueling eleven-day encounter in San Diego in 1996, she began having serious reservations about whether she was "cut out" for the intense confrontations that often face rescue volunteers. She also had a difficult time operating under Benham’s leadership, believing they made better friends than co-workers. Because of her affection for the people involved in rescue, however, it took her until the early summer of 1997 to complete the break.

Ronda Mackey has joined Norma in leaving OR, and the two women have set up a ministry to handle Norma’s invitations to speak and appear at pro-life events. Instead of being under the OR umbrella, Norma now reports regularly to the pastors at Hillcrest Church.

OR was next door to Norma’s clinic for less than a year, but in that short time God worked a miracle in her life. Then, after regenerating her heart, the truth about abortion found a place in her intellect. Once that truth took hold, there was no turning back.

"I’m 100 percent sold out to Jesus and 100 percent pro-life," she likes to say. "No exceptions. No compromise."

Reprinted by permission, Christian Reader