Norma “Jane Roe” McCorvey’s Final Act Was Preserving Her Legacy

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
This week, the world found out a lot more about the woman behind one of the most well-known Supreme Court cases. The new FX On Hulu documentary AKA Jane Roe tells the story of Norma McCorvey, the Roe of Roe v. Wade. McCorvey went from being synonymous with the pro-choice movement, to an anti-abortion activist to, in the new film, claiming that she was paid by anti-abortion groups to work with them and spread their rhetoric. (Some of the groups dispute the specifics of her claims.)
Even before the documentary from director Nick Sweeney was released, McCorvey's "deathbed confession" was revealed. As reported by CBS News, McCorvey says in the film, "I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they'd put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say." Sweeney asks her if it was "all an act," and she says, "Yeah, I did it well too. I am a good actress — of course I'm not acting now." She also gave her opinion on abortion as of the time of the interview: "If a young woman wants to have an abortion, fine. You know, that's no skin off my ass. You know that's why they call it choice: it's your choice."
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The "confession" and updated take on abortion did turn out to be given soon before her death. McCorvey died of a heart condition in February 2017 at age 69 not long after the documentary was filmed.
After the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, McCorvey was known as being pro-choice until the 1990s. In 1995, she became a born-again Christian after meeting — and being baptized by — evangelical minister Flip Benham, who was previously the leader of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue, according to the Washington Post. She began speaking out against abortion, including calling for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade and getting arrested while protesting the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, as reported by the Guardian. Also, after being an out lesbian and in a lengthy relationship with a woman named Connie Gonzalez, she claimed she was no longer gay. In her lifetime, McCorvey released two books: I Am Roe in 1994 and Won by Love in 1997.
In addition to focusing on this portion of her life, AKA Jane Roe also tells of McCorvey's traumatic upbringing, her marriage at age 16, and her three pregnancies, all of which resulted in the children being given up for adoption. While McCorvey was initially seeking an abortion for her third pregnancy, she gave birth and put her baby up for adoption while the Supreme Court case was still ongoing.
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As the documentary shows, McCorvey's daughter and granddaughters were at her side when she passed.
Clearly, McCorvey's life has been defined by the huge swings she's made in terms of what she's said about abortion — including now, by going back on what she's said once again in AKA Jane Roe. Her changes — if not of heart, but of what she shared with the public, will be what pull people into the documentary and leave her as a complicated figure in American history for years to come.
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