She was a pregnant 21-year-old woman with a 10th grade education … too poor to get an illegal abortion in Texas, or a legal one in California. He was a physician whose practice was suffering because he could not perform legal abortions. Norma McCorvey, Dr. James Hallford, and John and Mary Doe, a married couple who could not bear children or take contraceptives due to health risks, were all ripe candidates for what was escalating into a nationwide cause celebre in 1970 – the right of a woman to have an abortion.
Considered one of the centers of the nation’s Bible belt, Texas law forbid abortion except in the case where the life of the mother was threatened. McCorvey’s plight, as well as that of the Doe’s and Dr. Hallford, provided a stage for pro-abortionists to challenge the Texas courts. The testimonies of a physician, a poor young woman, and a childless couple were models for Planned Parenthood’s case. What American would not be moved with sympathy by McCorvey’s testimony of being raped by three men and a woman? Or a physician who wished to perform safe, legal abortions?
In March, 1970, McCorvey filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and “all other women similarly situated,” along with the Does and Dr. Hallford. Their case set the wheels in motion towards overruling the 100-year-old abortion law. Later the Doe’s and Dr. Hallford’s cases were dismissed for lack of standing. The court also threw out McCorvey’s case and reaffirmed the Texas state law.
In the meantime, McCorvey had given birth to her child and put the baby up for adoption. She was forced to give birth, according to court records, because of the length of the court case and the decision-making process. Ironically, today a 16-year-old child who was a candidate for the first legal abortion in Texas is now living, while millions of others have died because of the consequences of that decision.
Although she gave birth, McCorvey filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, and was represented by Sarah Weddington, a prominent Dallas attorney. Her case was heard the same day as that of a 20-year-old Georgia woman named Sandra Bensing. Her case, Doe vs. Bolton, also reached the Supreme Court level. Bensing was represented by feminist lawyer Marjorie Pitts Hames.
The two Southern women and their attorneys argued that the Texas and Georgia abortion laws were unconstitutional because of the infringement on a woman’s right to privacy, as well as their supposed violation of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The subsequent victory for pro-abortionists overturned every state law banning abortions and opened the door to legalizing a massive underground industry.
It had only been a matter of time. Stories about back alley abortionists maiming poor young girls, the changing perception of the value of human life, and an activist Supreme Court were factors that encouraged the decision. Prior to Roe vs. Wade, performing abortions had been an anathema for physicians and ran counter to the convictions of the Hippocratic oath. “We didn’t like doing them … because it had been considered taboo for so long …” said Dr. Joseph Randall, who began performing abortions before Roe vs. Wade in Albany, New York. Dr. Randall said that with the passage of time he became “desensitized. Eventually, we became numb to the process as the taboos fell to the wayside.”
Roe vs. Wade signalled not only a broader interpretation of the “right to privacy” – to include a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy – but swept in an era of judicial activism. The Court held that the fetus has no right of its own to claim protection, and redefined “life” for children and adults.
Roe vs. Wade’s Cracked Foundation
Today, 16 years later, after 25 million abortions, the foundations of Roe vs. Wade are beginning to crumble. President Bush’s reappointment of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, and some recent and shocking disclosures by the original plaintiffs, as well as a surge of pro-life activism, are revealing that legalized abortion is in trouble.
Since the landmark Supreme Court decision, Norma McCorvey gave birth to her child, and Sandra Bensing never had an abortion. Both of these women have also come forward to admit that their testimony was false. In 1987, McCorvey told Washington Times columnist Carl Rowan that the Roe decision was based on false testimony. She admitted that her account of being raped in 1969 was a fabrication designed to invalidate the law. Instead, she confessed that she had become pregnant by her boyfriend.
Sandra Bensing also filed a request in early January of this year asking the Georgia Supreme Court to review her case. She told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that she approached an attorney seeking assistance to secure legal custody of her children. The attorney told her that she would like her to be the plaintiff in a case challenging the Georgia state law banning abortion, and she agreed.
She stated that she never needed an abortion, and has never received one since the decision. “This could destroy the legal foundation for Roe vs. Wade,” said Joan Moseley, a spokesperson for the plaintiff. “We believe we have discovered fraud, but we are protecting the plaintiff because she has been getting harassed by pro-abortion groups.”
Bensing said during the abortion case that much of her life was in a “daze” and that she was examined twice at psychiatric hospitals. “I just had a really tremendous emotional stress on me. It was a hell I was living through.” She described herself “like a little puppy on a leash. Wherever I thought anybody was going to help me, I would follow along.”
She said she opposes abortion and hopes the Supreme Court ruling will be reversed. “I decided from the very beginning I would never consent to an abortion,” she said. “I’m not a religious person but I believe in God. I know He’s real. I know we don’t take lives.”
Although she knew was using the case to overturn Georgia’s anti-abortion law, she said, “I decided from the very beginning I was not going to have an abortion. They told me if I agreed to go through the courts they would not force me to have an abortion.” She said she is now determined to work against abortion.
McCorvey’s attorney, Sarah Weddington, claims that her rape testimony wasn’t a factor in the Roe decision: “I never touched the issue of rape and only emphasized the question of whether the Constitution gives to the state or leaves to a woman the questions of what she can or must do with her body.” Since the Georgia plaintiff filed her request, Hames has actually hired an attorney to protect herself.
All of these developments have come on the heels of a recent Supreme Court decision to review a Missouri case, Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services. The issue before the court now is a state law which bans abortions and public funding, except in the case when a mother’s life is endangered. Attorney General Thornburgh has asked the high court to review the case and to rule against the precedent established by Roe vs. Wade.
Meanwhile: The Effects of Abortion on the Nation
What have 16 years of abortion done to our nation? Planned Parenthood’s sex education services have proliferated considerably onto junior-high and high school campuses. Consequently, studies indicate that the rate of teen pregnancies has skyrocketed, along with the use of contraceptives. Each year, over one million teenage girls become pregnant … resulting in 400,000 abortions.
The abortion industry and contraceptive manufacturing has proven to be a very lucrative trade. According to a study published in Family Planning Perspectives, the 400 percent increase in the numbers of teens reached by contraceptive information has resulted in a 45 percent increase in teen pregnancies. Also, even among those teen-agers who were reported as always using contraceptives, 13.9 percent still got pregnant.
Besides the increase of teen pregnancies, experts have also documented the painful side-effects of abortion. Recently Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wrote a letter to President Reagan saying that there is inconclusive evidence to demonstrate the harmful side-effects of abortion on women. However, Koop’s remarks have been strongly challenged by other experts in reproductive health and psychology. They maintain that there is a large body of scientific evidence which indicates long-term physical effects for most women who undergo abortion. Pro-life leaders affirm that stress can cause major emotional problems for women even five to ten years after the abortion.
Last year, a California abortion clinic was closed down temporarily by the city due to the high death rate and health hazards. Approximately 40 to 50 women had died from abortions at the clinic, said Kathy Walker, vice president of Women Exploited by Abortion (WEBA). The group, along with the Inglewood City Council, was instrumental in closing down the clinic.
“There was one case where a woman had a D & C abortion at the clinic,” said Walker, “and she started having a complication. Instead of taking her to the hospital down the street, they took her across town to another facility that was associated with the clinic. She was hospitalized for three days and died on the last day.” WEBA also represented a teenager who was physically harmed by a saline abortion, but the case was thrown out, said Walker.
When asked how many women have died from abortions, Walker explained that it was hard to calculate because doctors usually place information about abortion-related deaths under a different category. “It’s a cover up. The doctor has the authority to write what he wants. And doctors will cover up for other doctors.”
WEBA began in the early 1980s and is growing rapidly in every state in the union, with chapters in Japan and the United Kingdom.
Besides the post-abortion psychological trauma for the mother, researchers have found that the fetus experiences pain. “Whatever the method used, the unborn are experiencing the greatest of bodily evils, the ending of their lives. They are undergoing the death agony,” said John Noonan, a law professor at the University of California in Berkeley.
Dr. Michael Harrison, associate professor of surgery at the University of California in San Francisco and co-director of the university’s Fetal Treatment Program, said, “Yes, fetuses do feel pain. They have the same response as a newborn baby.”
Who has benefited from Roe vs. Wade?
The only beneficiaries of the Roe decision have been the abortion industry and Planned Parenthood, since the actual plaintiffs have never taken advantage of the ruling in their favor. Possibly the other beneficiaries are the attorneys, Weddington and Pitts Hames, who have gained considerable notoriety among feminists and liberal politicians for their devotion to the cause of abortion.
The victims of the decision are the mothers, children, and doctors who have been physically and psychologically harmed by abortion. McCorvey and the Doe plaintiff have also been marked for the rest of their lives by the dark shadow cast by the Supreme Court ruling. The Georgia plaintiff says she often receives harassing phone calls.
1989 is a prime opportunity for the reversal of a case which has wreaked havoc upon the lives of teenagers, mothers, doctors and unborn children across the nation. With the Missouri case before the Supreme Court, recent disclosures from former plaintiffs, and the growing body of evidence which demonstrates the harmful effects of abortion on the mother and the child, the reversal of Roe vs. Wade is indeed a very concrete possibility.