Norma McCorvey probably isn’t a household name across most of the United States, but she was instrumental in a Supreme Court ruling most Americans are well-aware of: Roe v. Wade.
In that decision, lawyers for McCorvey, who was listed as “Jane Roe” in briefings, successfully argued that abortion rights should be recognized across the entirety of the United States of America. Though efforts have been made over the years to limit the scope of that ruling (including during the coronavirus crisis), the right to have an abortion has remained intact ever since.
McCorvey’s story didn’t end there, however, and saw her crossing sides later in her life. In 1995 McCorvey announced she had changed her mind to the dismay of many in the pro-choice movement.
Joining an anti-choice crusade, led by Reverend Rob Schenck and Reverent Flip Benham at the time, McCorvey renounced her support for abortion rights and said she was a born-again Christian who was pro-life. McCorvey, who was also a lesbian, said she was renouncing that part of her life, too.
The anti-choice activist passed away in 2017, but not before sitting down with filmmakers to tell her whole story. In AKA Jane Roe, the FX documentary that takes a deeper look at McCorvey’s life, a huge revelation is made in the final 20 minutes of the film: her renunciation of the pro-choice movement was entirely fabricated.
“This is my deathbed confession,” McCorvey says in the film, revealing that she didn’t really change her views at all. It was “all an act,” she said.
Asked by filmmakers whether she was used “as a trophy” by anti-choice movement, McCorvey responded in the affirmative. “Of course. I was the Big Fish,” she said
Filmmakers also asked McCorvey if she was using the anti-choice movement for her own benefit. “I think it was a mutual thing,” she explained. “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.”
The two clergymen who worked with McCorvey in the 1990s took differing views on her statements. Benham maintains they did not pay McCorvey for her conversion to their side, but Schenck has said otherwise, explaining “she was actually on the payroll, as it were.”
AKA Jane Roe filmmakers uncovered $456,911 in payments called “benevolent gifts” made to McCorvey.
Schenck himself had a change of heart about the issue of abortion, too. In a 2018 interview, he explained that he’s tempered his views significantly, arguing against movements to make the practice illegal.
“This is not a question for politicians,” Schenck said then to NPR. “When your end goal is a political one, you will, without exception, exploit the pain and the suffering and the agony of those who face the issue in their daily reality, in their real life.”
In a recent tweet about the documentary, Schenck expressed originally feeling “conflicted” about being interviewed, but said he was “glad” he ended up agreeing to speak in the film. “You’ll see me express deep regret for how movement leaders like me treated Norma McCorvey, ‘Jane Roe’ of Roe v. Wade,” he added.
Not every voice on the pro-choice side of the argument was happy to hear McCorvey’s confession in the film. Texas-based abortion rights activist Charlotte Taft who also appears in the documentary. When confronted by filmmakers about McCorvey’s revelation, Taft expressed betrayal by her former friend.
“That just really hurts because it’s big stakes. It’s just really big stakes,” Taft said.