'All an act': Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, says she was paid by right-wing groups to publicly turn against abortion

by 24USATVMay 19, 2020, 10 p.m. 21
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• Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, confessed at the end of her life that she was paid a significant amount of money to promote antiabortion causes.
• In the documentary "AKA Jane Roe," premiering on FX Networks and Hulu on May 22, McCovey, who died of heart failure at the age of 69 in 2017, tells her complex life story.
• Over 20 years after the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973, McCorvey went from being an abortion-rights advocate to a born-again evangelical Christian and ardent opponent of abortion.
• But in what she describes in the documentary as her "deathbed confession," McCovey says her antiabortion activism was "all an act" and that she was coached on what to say and paid to oppose abortion.

Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, says in the forthcoming documentary "AKA Jane Roe" that she was paid a significant amount of money to promote antiabortion causes.

The documentary, directed by Nick Sweeney and premiering on FX Networks and Hulu on May 22, shows McCovey, who died at of heart failure at the age of 69 in 2017, telling her complex life story.

McCorvey, who grew up in a poor and unstable home environment in Texas, gained national prominence as the plaintiff, then known as Jane Roe, in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.

At the age of 22, McCorvey sought an abortion in 1969 to end a pregnancy, her third by that point, during a turbulent time in her life. At that point, two attorneys represented her as the plaintiff in a case to sue Texas over its law prohibiting abortion except to save the life of the mother. The case became a class-action lawsuit and made it through the federal court system to the Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 decision in 1973, the court ruled to extend the right to privacy established under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to abortion, which meant states could not prohibit patients from accessing the procedure in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Ironically, McCorvey never got an abortion herself. By the time the case was decided, her third child, who she gave up for adoption, was already a toddler.

After the watershed decision, McCorvey was out of the public eye for some time before starting to go by her real name and becoming a more open advocate supporting abortion rights and working on behalf of abortion access causes in Texas, although her complicated personal life and the inconsistencies she spread about the circumstances surrounding her own pregnancy made her an imperfect figurehead for the movement.

Then, in a dramatic reversal in the 1990s, McCorvey became a born-again Evangelical Christian, publicly affiliated herself with Operation Rescue, a controversial militant anti-abortion group now known as Operation Save America, and vocally opposed the procedure for years.

But in what she described in the documentary as her "deathbed confession," McCovey characterized her anti-abortion activism as "all an act," telling a number of friends — and the public — that she was paid to repeat anti-abortion talking points, according to reviews of the documentary in the Daily Beast and the Los Angeles Times.

When asked if the anti-abortion Evangelical movement used her "as a trophy" in their cause, she said, "Of course. I was the Big Fish...I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say. That's what I'd say."

"I'm a good actress...of course," she added. "I'm not acting now."

The documentary makers found that McCorvey had been paid at least $456,911 worth of "benevolent gifts" by the anti-abortion groups she affiliated herself with, the Beast reported.

Evangelical Reverend Rob Schenck, who once led Operation Rescue but has since distanced himself from the movement, also expressed regret at how he and others cultivated McCorvey as an anti-abortion voice, admitting to the filmmakers that he and others coached McCorvey on what to say out of fear "that she would go back to the other side."

"I had never heard her say anything like this," he says when shown footage of McCorvey confessing her activism was an act. "But I knew what we were doing. And there were times when I was sure she knew. And I wondered, Is she playing us? What I didn't have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we're playing her," he said.

Sweeney told the Los Angeles Times that he wanted to tell McCorvey's story not through the lens of a pro or anti-abortion rights movement, but on her own terms with all the complicating factors and tragedies that made her never a perfect figurehead for anyone's movement.

"I thought she was extremely interesting and enigmatic. I liked that her life was full of these fascinating contradictions," he said.

McCorvey succinctly sums up her view on abortion in her own words in the documentary, saying, "If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that's no skin off my ass. That's why they call it choice."

See the full trailer for "AKA Jane Roe" here:

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