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‘It was Easy. Her Heart Was Ripe,’ Preacher Who Converted Jane Roe Says

August 11, 1995

DALLAS (AP) _ The first time the head of Operation Rescue saw the woman known as Jane Roe at a book signing in Dallas, he screamed, ``Norma McCorvey, you are responsible for the death of 33 million children!″

And thus began a beautiful friendship.

It took just four months for the Rev. Flip Benham to move his Operation Rescue headquarters next door to the Dallas abortion clinic where McCorvey worked, befriend her and claim her as a convert.

As of this week, McCorvey _ the plaintiff in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide _ quit her job at the abortion clinic, was baptized in a back yard swimming pool and started working at Operation Rescue.

She still favors abortions in the first trimester and has a live-in lesbian lover of 26 years _ both anathema to Benham’s fundamentalist Christianity. ``Norma will be set free from it,″ he said.

On Friday, as Benham prepared for an anti-abortion protest downtown, he was beaming.

``It was easy,″ he said. ``Her heart was ripe.″

At the Choice for Women abortion clinic Friday afternoon, where McCorvey’s lover, Connie Gonzales, works as a medical assistant, tempers flared.

``I hate him. He’s the devil,″ Gonzales said while taking a smoking break outside the clinic, which shares a wall with the Operation Rescue office.

``They’ve got her too far this time and I will not let them take her any farther,″ she said. ``I will talk to her day and night if I have to.″

She acknowledges that McCorvey was ``looking for God,″ but ``you can talk her into anything. ... She is gullible.″

Just three weeks ago, Gonzales and McCorvey signed a memo written by the president of the clinic prohibiting any contact with Operation Rescue workers during office hours.

Benham recalled McCorvey’s horror when Operation Rescue took up residence next door in March, saying she called him ``all sorts of names.″

Gradually, as Benham waved and smiled at her from across the parking lot, her guard broke down.

``Miss Norma, Miss Norma, what are we going to do?″ he would tease. Soon, she was calling him ``Flipper″ and the two 47-year-olds were chatting about one of their favorite groups, the Beach Boys.

By May, they were sitting together on a park bench in front of the abortion clinic, he with his Bible, she with her amulet stones.

``Norma would come over to the office,″ he said. ``Sometimes she’d pick up the phone for us. She was a friend. She felt very free in our office. There came a time when Norma wished she was in our office more than theirs.″

McCorvey could not be reached for comment Friday. Her home telephone had been disconnected.

McCorvey and Benham had one thing in common from the beginning: Both survived troubled pasts.

He had been a saloon keeper and a drunk. She was raped as a teen-ager, sold drugs, dropped out of high school, married briefly when she was 16.

McCorvey was a 21-year-old carnival barker when, pregnant for the third time, she sought an abortion.

She agreed to be the plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Texas’ anti-abortion statute.

The landmark Supreme Court decision came too late for her, and she had the baby. It was the third child she put up for adoption.

McCorvey publicly identified herself as Jane Roe in 1980 and ever since, she has been the target of abortion foes.

Over the years, her house has been pelted by eggs and she has been accosted by anti-abortion activists in grocery stores calling her ``baby killer.″

She has said she felt used by leaders of the abortion rights movement who later shunned her from public speaking because of her lack of education.

In a television interview, she said she believed Benham and his group truly loved her for herself and she vowed never to be manipulated again.

Benham says he does not consider McCorvey a trophy.

``When you’re drowning, it doesn’t matter how manipulated it is, you have to reach down and save her,″ he said.

___

EDITOR’S NOTE: Julia Prodis is the AP’s Southwest regional reporter, based in Dallas.

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