Ros Petchesky and Ellen Willis. Rather, she’s a lesbian high-school dropout who for years has made her living cleaning houses. The product of an emotionally and sexually abusive family, McCorvey grew up first as a Jehovah’s Witness in Cajun Louisiana, then in the streets and girls’ reformatories of East and Central Texas. She’s been a brilliant renegade at least since age eleven, when she ran away from Dallas to Oklahoma City with a girlfriend . This was in the status-offense 1950s, and knowing that two girls couldn’t get far without their wits, Norma employed hers with a vengeance. She sent a telegram to an Oklahoma City hotel saying “Honey, I’ll catch up with you later this evening. Love, Dad.” Duped, the desk clerk gave the girls a room, and there they cavorted for three days before a maid spied them kissing each other. McCorvey was charged with “sodomy,” and ended up at the Gainesville, Texas, girls’ reformatory \(where she was put into solitary after trying to recruit the other inmates to her “I Hate All Adults” cinema verite, the kind sophisticated people love to watch in art houses. Most would be decidedly reluctant, however, to know the real character. They wouldn’t be comfortable with the adult McCorvey either, because she has never learned how to talk the talk and walk the walk of feminism’s mostly upper-middle-class, professional celebrities. She has tried mightily though, and the ladies of the abortion rights scene have been put off, even offended by her gaffes. Too often they’ve snubbed her. A couple of years ago, when she was still making appearances on behalf of the right to abortion, I interviewed McCorvey and she talked about the many times, including the big 1989 Pro-Choice rally in Washington, when she wasn’t invited to speak. Then there was the day she was at a Dallas abortion clinic, lettering signs for a demonstration. A bigwig from NOW walked in, spied a misspelling on one of McCorvey’s posters and scolded her for doing crappy work. I clucked indignantly at these stories. But a few minutes later, I was the pinchmouthed, disapproving priss as McCorvey invited me, sotto voce, to “start the revolution” with her by doing illegal abortions and not necessarily waiting until they were outlawed to begin. Nor did I know how to respond when McCorvey talked about her recurring, suicidal depressions and her problems with drugs and alcohol. There was no philosophizing or heroics when she dwelled on these subjects: she is unabashedly needy, tormented by personal demons, and looking for salvation, or at least help. Yet during her early years as Jane Roe, she got Norma McCorvey none, particularly when it came to what she needed most: an abortion. When Sarah Weddington first met her at a Dallas pizza joint in 1970, McCorvey already had given birth to two children. She had loved and cared for the first baby conceived while she was married to a wifebeaterbut lost the child when her mother seized the baby after she learned of McCorvey’ s lesbianism, then threatened to tell child protection authorities about it if she contested the custody change. Later McCorvey became pregnant a second time. She was single then and regretfully gave up the baby for adoption. When she arrived at her meeting with VALERIE FOWLER/FROM A WORLD WIDE PHOTOS PRINT Weddington, McCorvey was in her third pregnancy and absolutely desperate to end it. She was still in her first trimester and had wandered all over Dallas looking for an abortionist. Her efforts had bombed: she was out of the self-help loop familiar to savvy women like Weddington, who herself had undergone an abortion three years earlier in Mexico, and who surely knew of the feminist underground railroad that sent pregnant U.S. women to south-of-the-border doctors. As an attorney, it would have been unethical for Weddington to directly urge an illegal act on a client. Even so, she could have introduced McCorvey to a broader 10 SEPTEMBER 29, 1995
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