Norma McCorvey. Justice Byron White. Judge Neil Gorsuch.
Three different lives that one day, perhaps soon, may be forever linked in the righting of one of America’s greatest wrongs – our courts’ de facto categorization of preborn people as sub-human, a wrong embedded in Roe v. Wade.
The first mentioned of those lives helped begin the Roe case, the second dissented from the majority opinion, and the third may provide the vote to reverse it. There is great cause for hope.
Norma McCorvey’s life was one of redemption. Raised in poverty and abuse, in 1969 she was exploited by the pro-abortion movement to be the anonymous plaintiff in a lawsuit against Texas’s statute that protected children from being dismembered, poisoned, or otherwise killed before birth. Norma became “Jane Roe,” an identity which more than two decades later she would replace with a new one, Child of God. Just a few days ago, after over 20 years working in the pro-life movement, Norma went to be with the Lord.
In Roe, the ruling that came to dominate Norma’s life, the Supreme Court nonsensically held that it could not discern when a human life begins, then issued a ruling as if it had. The Court acted on its own assumption – in spite of science’s explicit findings – that a human life doesn’t begin until birth. Dissenting from that ruling was Justice Byron White.
Justice White’s life was one of achievement. Rising from humble beginnings – neither of his parents attended high school – he became an accomplished student and elite athlete. At the University of Colorado, he was student body president and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting for the nation’s top collegiate football player. A Rhodes Scholar, he also led the National Football League in rushing before entering military service during World War II.
Working in the Justice Department of the John F. Kennedy administration, Byron White took the lead in protecting the Freedom Riders who had been pulled off buses in Alabama and brutally beaten by segregationists. After President Kennedy appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1962, Justice White voted to protect civil rights and end segregation. His dissent in Roe v. Wade was consistent with the view that people should be treated equally, no matter who they are.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s life is one of distinction. The son of two lawyers, his mother having served as a high ranking Reagan administration official, he has excelled as a student, attorney, and jurist. President of his prep school class, Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Columbia University where he co-founded the college’s conservative student newspaper, and cum laude graduate from Harvard Law School, he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University.
In 1993, some two decades after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, Gorsuch clerked for Justice Byron White. Unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2006 to serve as a federal appellate court judge, he is now President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant seat on the nation’s highest court.
Having authored a book declaring that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong,” Judge Gorsuch has certainly articulated principles that could easily fit into a decision to overturn Roe. Given his and another pro-life judge’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, such a holding may be on the horizon.
Nothing would have pleased Norma more.
I first met Norma in 1995. Three years later I was privileged to bestow upon her the Sacrament of Confirmation as she entered the Catholic Church. Having kept in touch with her over the succeeding years, I know that her role in Roe v. Wade weighed heavy on her heart… we discussed it on a weekly basis for many years. But I also know that she was able to take the Lord’s hand and let His grace lift her up. She devoted her life in ways great and small to ending the tragedy of abortion.
An end to Roe also would have greatly pleased Justice White.
In his Roe v. Wade dissent, Justice White called the majority’s decision “an exercise of raw judicial power.” He stated that “nothing in the language or history of the Constitution” supports the ruling, adding that “[t]he Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers… with scarcely any reason or authority for its action.”
Justice White basically wrote that the “right” to abortion was created from nothing. Legal criticisms rarely are more plainly spoken.
And those criticisms written by one of Judge Gorsuch’s mentors could provide the words that our current Supreme Court nominee might use, if confirmed, to end Roe v. Wade’s deadly tyranny.
Norma McCorvey, Justice Byron White, and Judge Neil Gorsuch, then, are connected by the thread of Roe v. Wade. McCorvey the plaintiff, White the dissenter, and Gorsuch — possibly – the one who helps overturn the decision, could become the historical bookends to one of the most shameful chapters in American jurisprudence. As Norma would say, “May it be.”
Father Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life.