Norma McCorvey’s life was full of contradictions. She was best known as “Jane Roe”, the name given her in the “Roe v Wade” legal proceedings that led to the effective legalisation of abortion by the US Supreme Court in 1973. She then adamantly advocated for legal abortion in the late 1980s, before adamantly opposing it in the 1990s and 2000s.
And now, in AKA Jane Roe, a new documentary by Nick Sweeney, it is claimed that just before her death in 2017 McCorvey favoured abortion rights once again. She is shown making a “deathbed confession” to Sweeney and his crew.
McCorvey told a compelling story in person. She happened to be in the Philadelphia area when I was introducing myself to the pro-life movement and taking a hard look at it so that I could write about it accurately.
I attended one of her presentations at Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in April, 2003. Norma McCorvey had a poetically graphic way with words and a knack for spiking her speech with humour. She seemed sincere in telling her lifetime’s story that day. Hearts in Visitation’s church hall went out to her. That woman endured a lot of suffering in her days. I left that presentation admiring McCorvey for her tenacity in surviving a life of hard knocks.
“I like attention,” says McCorvey early in the documentary. As she tells it in between inhalations of the oxygen that kept her alive, the only kind of attention that McCorvey received as a youngster was negative. Her mother was a drunk who slapped her around; her father abandoned the family, says McCorvey. As a tween, she robbed a gas station and ran away from home with a girlfriend only to be arrested when they were caught kissing each other, she adds.
McCorvey’s next stop was an all-girls reform school where, aged 10 to 15, she found some security and lots of girlfriends. From there, McCorvey was sent to live with a male relative; he sexually abused her. A year later, McCorvey met and married Woody. The marriage ended when she told Woody that she was pregnant and he smacked her.
By 1969, while living the life of a drunk, pregnant street person in her early 20s, McCorvey walked out of a filthy, illegal abortion clinic and into an adoption agency. There, she learned about a lawyer who was looking for a plaintiff in trying to overturn Texas abortion law.
So McCorvey, a self-proclaimed rape victim who later admitted she lied about the rape, signed up with attorney Sarah Weddington and the effort to overturn Texas abortion law in 1970. By the time Weddington’s case moved its way up to the Supreme Court in 1973, the lawyer’s “Jane Roe” had already given her baby up for adoption. McCorvey never had an abortion.
McCorvey was then living with Connie Gonzalez, whom viewers of the documentary meet as the kind, lesbian storeowner who took Norma under her wing. The pair remained together for decades. After McCorvey converted to Christianity, Gonzalez agreed to maintain a platonic relationship.
That conversion – helped by Flip Benham of the pro-life group Operation Rescue (now called Operation Save America) – also brought an end to McCorvey’s pro-abortion advocacy. By 1995, she was speaking out on behalf of unborn life.
But in the film, McCorvey says she was paid by Operation Rescue – a claim corroborated by one of the organisation’s leaders, Robert Schnenck. Benham, however, denies the allegation.
“I was the big fish,” McCorvey says of those days with Operation Rescue. “I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me in front of the camera and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say. It was all an act. I did it well, too. I am a good actress.”
McCorvey converted to Catholicism in 1998 under the guidance of Fr Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life. A very brief clip of Fr Pavone interviewing McCorvey on his longtime running EWTN programme “Defending Life” – a clip that tells viewers nothing – is included in AKA Jane Roe. But he is not interviewed in the documentary.
Nor is another pro-life leader, Abby Johnson, who since AKA Jane Roe was released has said its headline claim is “patently false”. Johnson says she spoke to McCorvey days before her death, and that McCorvey was haunted by the number of deaths from abortion.
Immediately after telling the filmmakers about being raped by a male relative at age 15 – and before saying that she considers herself “butch” – McCorvey points to a picture of Jesus in his role as the Sacred Heart on the wall of her bedroom. “He’s my boyfriend,” she quips.
Was this flip chameleon willing to say anything to feed her need for attention? Or was the real McCorvey so desperate to be loved that she changed her colours to suit her company?
God only knows the content of Norma McCorvey’s soul. Let Him be her judge.