GREEK TRAGEDY pits human beings against the capricious, and often vengeful, gods. It places mortals in an untenable situation of servitude to the higher whims of the bloodless, soulless deities. Oedipus unknowingly marries his mother and kills his father, then blinds himself as punishment. Cassandra is granted the double-edged sword of prophecy, predicting war and her own personal destruction to a disbelieving audience. Orestes, returned from the Trojan War, is ordered by the gods to kill his mother and is then forced into madness by the furies. Prometheus tries to steal the gods' fire, and is condemned to have his body eaten by carrion.
There are a few figures who have free will, but end up with equally tragic destinies. Interestingly, they're usually women. Medea kills her own children to punish her adulterous husband Jason. Iphigenia, daughter of a warrior king, agrees to be sacrificed so her father and her people can win a battle. And the proto-feminist Antigone, someone who didn't need a pink crochet hat to find her dignity, kills herself rather than be forced to violate her own moral code.
I thought about these stories when I heard that Norma McCorvey, a/k/a Jane Roe, had died. The woman who will forever be tied to our national, generational fight over legalized abortion was 69, and succumbed to heart failure. It's not hard to believe that the years of struggle, first from one side of the barricade and then in a shocking twist, the other, put inhuman pressure on that heart and that spirit.
In 1973, McCorvey was recruited as the name plaintiff in a lawsuit against Texas' restrictive abortion laws. A young feminist attorney, Sarah Weddingtin, used McCorvey's inability to get an abortion to petition the Supreme Court to recognize a fundamental right to destroy the developing child.
Weddington won, as we all know. McCorvey thought she'd won, too. She spent many years after 1973 celebrating the legal victory that, for many of us, was a bitter example of moral nihilism and judicial activism.
And then, something happened. In the 1990s, McCorvey converted to evangelical Christianity and ultimately, Roman Catholicism. She rejected the landmark Supreme Court case that still divides this nation at its moral core, and described herself "100% pro life," even opposing abortion in cases of rape.
And, perhaps most tellingly, she blamed her lawyers, including the now-famous Weddington, for manipulating her into being a sacrificial lamb for the abortion rights movement.
I look at Jane Roe and I see all of the tragic Greeks who were either caught up in what my friend David calls the "tentacles of circumstance" or who made decisions to sacrifice themselves for a greater good. She was Medea, the mother who could consider the death of a child as some sort of protest, and a plea for freedom. She was Prometheus, seeking a divine power to which she was not entitled. She was Iphigenia, who willingly gave up the hero worship of the evolved pro-choice masses to speak her pro-life truth, a sacrifice of reputation and respect. And most of all, she was Antigone, who killed "Jane Roe" and extinguished her role in that choice crusade to answer to her higher moral code.
In the end, Norma McCorvey will be remembered as the woman who, willingly or not, spearheaded a battle that ended in millions of unborn children. She spent the last two decades of her life trying to change that narrative, re-create her story, repackage her message. It was a courageous act.
My hope is that the unforgiving furies she encountered in her seven decades have ended their manic pursuit, and that she has now found the peace that eluded her in life.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer