Editor’s Note: This article was first published by Talk Media News and it is republished with permission.
For some of us, the death of Norma McCorvey evoked not only headline references to the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling but memories of a time when any woman enduring that surgery when it was still illegal was risking the end of her life.
McCorvey, dead of heart failure at 69 the other day, was the anonymous plaintiff in the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in America back in 1973.
But some of us, even six decades after the fact, still remember a springtime morning in Baltimore in 1955.
There was a knock on my door that day and my friend Joel stood there with a stunned expression on his face. He gestured two doors down, where our friends Diane and Richard lived. They were, like us, about 10 years old.
“Kitty died,” Joel said.
“That’s not funny.”
“I’m not kidding,” Joel said.
He pointed up the street. Men in white coats were moving a stretcher, on which the covered, lifeless body of Diane and Richard’s mother, Kitty, was headed for the city morgue.
It was only later that we learned of the botched abortion the previous night that caused her to bleed to death.
What we knew immediately was the utter heartbreak suffered by her children, whose world was forever damaged by their mother’s death. They sat on their front porch that morning, two orphaned urchins whose father, rarely seen, lived in Washington, where he drove a bus for a living.
Now his children back in Baltimore, sobbing helplessly, saw themselves as all alone. No one else was around. It was hours before the father showed up, and eventually a grandfather, old and over-matched, moved in to help raise them.
But they spent their youth in poverty and self-consciousness. It wasn’t fair. Everybody else had a mother; why had they been deprived? Diane, under-age and desperate for some sense of security, would marry young and badly to a husband who beat her up until she ran off to a distant state.
Don’t tell me about legal abortion killing the unborn; illegal abortion killed the already-born as well as the unborn.
America has spent the past half-century embattled over the Roe v. Wade decision. Elections have been affected by it, books written, debates waged across years and years, and millions of legal abortions have been performed – though the numbers have diminished with modern methods of birth control.
By all accounts, Norma McCorvey was as torn by the issue as anyone.
She was an unwanted child, a high school dropout, a homeless runaway left pregnant three times by different men who gave up her children at birth. Pregnant again, at 22, she became the anonymous “Roe” in the 1973 Supreme Court case.
She was lionized by abortion rights backers – and vilified by foes, who called her a baby killer and threatened to murder her.
Later, she underwent a religious conversion – and became a high-profile anti-abortion campaigner.
In her singular embodiment was written the country’s emotional conflict.
So here’s a thought from a man who remembers a time before Roe v. Wade, a time when Norma McCorvey was herself still a child, a time when a botched abortion took the life of a woman in my old neighborhood with two innocent children left sobbing and out of control.
No one is in favor of abortions.
Abortion is an act of sheer desperation. It’s an operation endured by women whose health, or poverty, or family situation, puts them in a position where they see no other way out.
Diane and Richard’s mother had a low-wage job, and a husband who lived out of state, and two children she could barely support. She could not afford another. She took a chance, and she paid with her life – and, to a lesser but still pitiable extent, the lives of her children.
In a kinder time, in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, she might have been one of the millions whose lives – and the lives of their families – might have been salvaged.
Feature photo: The Women’s March in late January brought out hundreds of thousands of “Pro-Choice” advocates in Washington. Douglas Christian/TMN