Friday, May 22, 2020
"Jane Roe" from Roe v. Wade Retracts Anti-Abortion Conversion in Posthumous Documentary, "AKA Jane Roe"
Michelle Goldberg, Jane Roe's Pro-Life Conversion Was a Con
It was a cultural coup for the right when McCorvey publicly turned against legal abortion. Jane Roe rejecting Roe v. Wade was something abortion opponents could throw in the faces of pro-choice activists. So it is a bombshell that McCorvey has revealed, in the posthumous new documentary “AKA Jane Roe,” that it was, at least in some sense, an act. “I am a good actress,” she said.
The movie, which debuts on Friday on FX, also makes clear that anti-abortion leaders understood this. They’ve been perpetrating a scam on us all for 25 years.In the documentary’s final 20 minutes, McCorvey, who died of heart failure in 2017, gives what she calls her “deathbed confession.” She and the pro-life movement, she said, were using each other: “I took their money, and they put me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say, and that’s what I’d say.”
In her career as a pro-life icon, she collected nearly half a million dollars. But at the end of her life, she once again affirmed a belief in the right to abortion, and evinced pride in Roe v. Wade. “Roe isn’t going anywhere,” she said early on election night in 2016, when she thought Hillary Clinton was going to win. “They can try, but it’s not happening, baby.”***
Given the political damage done by her cynical about-face, it’s surprising how sympathetic McCorvey — campy, foul-mouthed and irreverent — comes off. She was a lost soul from a traumatic background. Her father was absent and her mother beat her, and she ended up in reform school after running away from home at 10. She entered an abusive marriage at 16, became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and lost custody of her first child.As she’s told the story, she signed up as the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade not because she wanted to make history but because she was desperate for an abortion. She never got one: By the time the case was decided, she’d given birth and put the baby up for adoption.
Later, McCorvey resented not being given a more prominent role as a pro-choice activist. The movement found her embarrassing, especially when, in 1987, she admitted that she’d lied when she’d said the pregnancy at the heart of Roe was a result of rape.***
“She was not the poster girl that would have been helpful to the pro-choice movement,” Charlotte Taft, a former director of the Abortion Care Network, says in the film. “However, an articulate, educated person could not have been the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade.” It was women like McCorvey — those without the resources to travel to pro-choice states — who endured forced childbirth in the years before Roe was decided. “People who are plaintiffs in cases are usually messy people,” said Kissling.
Many of the headlines about “AKA Jane Roe” have emphasized that McCorvey was paid to renounce abortion rights, but after watching it I don’t think it was all about money. McCorvey wanted respect and attention, to be honored and cherished. At times, people in the pro-choice movement tried to help her; for a while she was represented by the feminist superlawyer Gloria Allred. She made money giving speeches and selling the rights to her story, including for an Emmy-winning made-for-TV movie.