The Prolific Deceivers at the Heart of ‘Roe v. Wade’

A journalist pieces together the messy lives of Norma McCorvey, her family, and other central figures from the case.

The life of “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade was not what it seemed.

When Norma McCorvey, using the alias “Jane Roe,” sued Dallas district attorney Henry Wade for the right to an abortion that Texas law prohibited, she won plaudits from pro-choice feminists throughout the nation. Years later, in the late 1980s, McCorvey abandoned the anonymity of her alias and became a public advocate of abortion rights and a sought-out speaker on the pro-choice lecture circuit.

But in 1995, McCorvey took an action that made her a hero to a very different group of people: pro-life Christians. She renounced most of her earlier support for abortion rights and converted to evangelical Christianity. A photo that was widely reprinted in many evangelical publications showed an ecstatic Flip Benham—the director of Operation Rescue and the pastor of a Free Methodist church—baptizing a beaming McCorvey. Three years later, McCorvey converted to Catholicism, an action that may have linked her even more strongly to the pro-life cause. Yet in the last two years of her life, McCorvey distanced herself from organized religion, said that she supported abortion rights in at least the first trimester, and told a documentary filmmaker that her work for the pro-life movement had merely been an act.

So, which version of McCorvey was the real one? What does her complicated story tell us about the 50-year political battle over abortion rights in America? And what does it tell us about the Christians who have been caught up in that struggle?

Joshua Prager’s The Family Roe: An American Story is a masterpiece of journalistic research that uncovers the story not only of McCorvey but also her entire family, as well as a number of other …

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