By Jonathon Van Maren
On May 19, the LA Times published a bombshell: An upcoming FX documentary would reveal that the Religious Right had paid Norma McCorvey—Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade—to switch sides. “I was the big fish,” AKA Jane Roe features McCorvey saying. “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.” The New York Times summed up the narrative of the media feeding frenzy that followed: “Norma McCorvey’s Pro-Life Conversion was a Con.” To confirm this, McCorvey is even quoted as saying that if “a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”
AKA Jane Roe was released on May 22, and it turns out that the bombshell is a firecracker. Producer Nick Sweeney, whose previous projects include Born in the Wrong Body, Transgender Kids Camp, and The Sex Robots Are Coming, has a handful of out-of-context quotes from McCorvey, most of which are prompted with obviously leading questions, but his primary accomplishment appears to be selling the entire mainstream media on the idea that the last decades of Norma McCorvey’s life were “an act” and that her relationship with the pro-life movement was defined by money. This is not, in fact, what the documentary reveals, and over the past several days, her friends—those who knew her best—have pushed back against Sweeney’s portrayal.
The details of Norma McCorvey’s life are both tragic and well-known, and AKA Jane Roe adds almost nothing new. Her mother was a violent alcoholic. Her father abandoned the family when she was only 13 years old, and by then home life was so unbearable that at age 10 McCorvey had already stolen money from a gas station to run away from home with a female friend. She was caught, sent off to reform school, and remained there for five years. She was then farmed out to a relative, who sexually abused her. She got married at age 16 to steelworker Woody McCorvey but left him to return to her maternal home to raise their child when he proved abusive, too. She soon lost custody of her daughter, Melissa, to her mother.