Norma McCorvey, who used the pseudonym “Jane Roe” in the landmark reproductive rights case Roe v. Wade, said that the reason she was an anti-abortion activist later in life was because she was paid. The revelation comes in the new FX documentary AKA Jane Roe, which premieres this Friday, May 22nd, and was also reported by the Los Angeles Times.
AKA Jane Roe was directed by Nick Sweeney, who conducted a series of interviews with McCorvey before she died in February 2017 at the age of 69. In the film, she reportedly calls her work for anti-abortion activists “an act” and describes her admission that she took money from them her “deathbed confession.” She also states her true views in the film, “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”
As AKA Jane Roe explores, McCorvey was always a peculiar and controversial figure on both sides of the reproductive rights debate. She never actually had an abortion, but after becoming pregnant with her third child, signed an affidavit challenging laws in Texas that prohibited abortion except to save the life of the mother. Lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee saw McCorvey as an ideal plaintiff because she lacked the means to travel outside of Texas to get an abortion had she wanted one.
By the time Roe v. Wade was finally settled in 1973, McCorvey had given birth and put her child up for adoption. In the film she says, “I know how I felt when I found out that I was pregnant, and I wasn’t going to let another woman feel that way — cheap, dirty, and no good.” She also recalled her reaction to learning about the decision, saying, “Why would I be excited? I had a baby, but I gave her away. It’s for all the women who come after me.”
McCorvey went public as Jane Roe in the Eighties, but reproductive-rights activists tended to be wary of her, especially after she said she’d been lying when she claimed she’d gotten pregnant as the result of rape. Still, McCorvey seemed to fall firmly on the pro-choice side of the argument, and she was actually working at an abortion clinic in Dallas when she became unlikely friends with Flip Benham, the director of the radical anti-abortion Christian group Operation Save America (then known as Operation Rescue). Soon, McCorvey was a regular at anti-abortion rallies, appeared in various documentaries, and in 1998 published a memoir, Won by Love, in which she detailed her conversion on the issue.
But in AKA Jane Roe, McCovey said Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion groups paid her for her support. “I was the big fish,” she said. “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. That’s what I’d say. It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”
In the film, Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister who previously worked for Operation Rescue but has since changed his views on banning abortion, seemed to corroborate McCovey’s claims. He said she was paid for fear “that she would go back to the other side.” Schenck added, “There were times I wondered, ‘Is she playing us?’ And what I didn’t have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we were playing her … what we did with Norma was highly unethical. The jig is up.”