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Abortion-case celebrity joins pro-life group movement in U

The woman whose demand to end her pregnancy led to a 1973 Supreme Court decision to uphold a woman's rights to abortion has disavowed her position, joined a pro-life pressure group and says she wants to "help women to save babies".

In a stunning twist to one of America's most contentious political issues, 47-year-old Norma McCorvey, known as "Jane Roe" in the Roe vs Wade decision, has been baptised by the leader of Operation Rescue and joined the anti- abortion group.

Her announcement came two days after she quit her job as a marketing director for a busy woman's clinic in Dallas, where she had been shocked to see the sight of "a freezer full of foetuses".

Her turn-about has astounded both sides of the fractious, and sometimes violent, abortion debate in America. Pro-choice groups have downplayed her change of heart as a matter of personal choice that does nothing to threaten the controversial ruling.

Though Ms McCorvey, 47, says she still supports abortion in the first trimester, she had in recent weeks been seen attending a local Baptist church. But her colleagues never thought she would reverse her longstanding position.

"She said she'd found God," said a co-worker at the clinic, A Choice for Women. "She said she'd go to work for Operation Rescue. We sure don't like it."

"I'm pro-life. I think I've always been pro-life, I just didn't know it," Ms McCorvey said in a radio interview. "We've had two generations of women who have grown up with Roe vs Wade. They have literally been handed the right to slaughter their own children."

Ms McCorvey's fight,, at the age of 21, for the right to abort her third child became a national test case. By the time the case was settled she had given birth and the child had been adopted.

A former drug dealer and alcoholic, Ms McCorvey revealed her real identity in 1980 . As a convert to the pro-life movement she may be forced to end her 21-year lesbian relationship with a woman who still works at A Choice for Women.

Her conversion comes less than four months since Operation Rescue moved its Dallas headquarters next to the clinic where Ms McCorvey worked. Though anti-abortion groups deny they pressurised Ms McCorvey she herself described her new neighbours as "vultures circling the carcass".

As recently as January she described her abortion rights work as the "only thing I live for. I live, eat, breathe, think everything about abortion". In an interview yesterday she said she had "been through black magic and satanism before finding Jesus".

The Rev Philip "Flip" Benham, the fundamentalist preacher who leads Operation Rescue, said he baptised Ms McCorvey in the company of about 35 of her close friends.