Janet A. Morana is the executive director of Priests for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, the world’s largest mobilization of women who have had abortions. A native New Yorker, she was a public school teacher before becoming involved in pro-life work. She co-hosts the Defending Life and Catholic View for Women series on EWTN, and is a frequent guest on other TV and radio programs. She is the recipient of Legatus’ Cardinal John O’Connor Pro-life Hall of Fame Award. Her first book, Recall Abortion, was published by Saint Benedict Press.
Norma McCorvey called me “The Woman of the East.”
I called Norma my friend.
Norma was the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. But for the last 22 years, Norma has been an advocate for life. And although she never had an abortion, she deeply regretted that millions of babies have died because of an unjust decision rendered in her name.
Norma was a character. Once when I stayed in her home during a visit to Dallas, we went shopping and she insisted that I needed a cowboy hat. We laughed ourselves silly that day, but I did buy a hat. I still have it.
Once, during a visit to our office on Staten Island — this time I had the chance to host Norma at my home — she discovered New York bagels. She insisted the Texas variety couldn’t hold a candle to them so when she went home, I started overnighting some fresh-out-of-the oven New York bagels to her. Onion was her favorite.
I met Norma in 1995, after she had already been baptized a Christian by Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Rescue. She now declared herself “pro-life clear across the board.” Soon after she started hanging around with us Catholics, Norma decided the Catholic Church was a better fit for her.
I had the privilege of sitting next to her at St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dallas church where she was received into the Catholic Church in 1998. Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, concelebrated the Mass and placed the oil on her forehead to call down the Holy Spirit in confirmation. It was an awe-inspiring moment for everyone in that church.
Norma later asked me to accompany her on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat because she needed healing from the experience she went through as the poster child for abortion rights.
In 1969, Norma, then pregnant for a third time, had been working with an adoption lawyer when two young abortion-rights lawyers — Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffey — came into her life. Norma was basically homeless when the two attorneys learned of her situation. They treated her to a pizza lunch and Norma signed the documents that allowed them to exploit her as a way to legalize abortion. She became “Jane Roe” because she didn’t want her name in the papers. Little did she know how famous, or infamous, Jane Roe would one day become. But Jane Roe was a construct; Norma McCorvey was a flesh-and-blood woman who needed healing. It was my honor to pray, and cry, and heal with her at Rachel’s Vineyard.
Many of the women from the Silent No More Awareness Campaign had a chance to meet Norma at the March for Life over the years. I know she felt a pang for every woman hurt by abortion, and she told them so.
Norma did not attend oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and she learned of the decision by reading it in the Dallas Morning News. The unexpected pregnancy that led to Roe v. Wade had long since been adopted. That unexpected pregnancy didn’t end in abortion; she gave birth to her third child.
Norma was a feisty, energetic, outspoken convert for life. She, like many of us had flaws, but she will be missed by many people who saw her journey of redemption as proof that grace is available to all of us.
As for me, I will miss my friend.
Janet Morana is executive director of Priests for Life.