On Friday night, FX will air a documentary called "AKA Jane Roe," about the plaintiff in the landmark Roe v. Wade case, Norma McCorvey. It was on her behalf that the U.S. Supreme Court decided women had a Constitutional right to access to safe and legal abortion. McCorvey continued for decades to be a pro-choice activist, championing a woman's right to determine for herself the timing and planning of her own motherhood.
In the mid-90s, though, she underwent a very public transformation over to the side of the Christian evangelical, anti-choice movement. She became a "born-again" Christian, renounced her past life as a gay woman, and allegedly ended a decades-long romantic relationship with the woman she loved. She was paraded around the country with Rev. Flip Benham, of Operation Rescue infamy, speaking out against abortion, now, and the pro-choice movement that took her case to the Supreme Court and prevailed. It was a huge boon to the anti-choice, forced-birth movement.
The last part of the documentary chronicles McCorvey's last days and weeks before she dies, during which she drops a bomb on both movements.
In the final third of director Nick Sweeney’s 79-minute documentary, featuring many end-of-life reflections from McCorvey—who grew up queer, poor, and was sexually abused by a family member her mother sent her to live with after leaving reform school—the former Jane Roe admits that her later turn to the anti-abortion camp as a born-again Christian was “all an act.”
“This is my deathbed confession,” she chuckles, sitting in a chair in her nursing home room, on oxygen. Sweeney asks McCorvey, “Did [the evangelicals] use you as a trophy?” “Of course,” she replies. “I was the Big Fish.” “Do you think you would say that you used them?” Sweeney responds. “Well,” says McCorvey, “I think it was a mutual thing. 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.” She even gives an example of her scripted anti-abortion lines. “I’m a good actress,” she points out. “Of course, I’m not acting now.”
My brain is so twisted over this, and I cannot untangle it. As a clinic escort I have seen these @ssholes lie, manipulate, trick, and intimidate women for exercising their Constitutional right to make their own medical and family decisions. This was one of their favorites, how the original Roe regretted her decision, and the Court's. (McCorvey never ended up getting the abortion, by the way. The court case took too long for that...she gave birth before it was over.) Well, we now have an answer to THAT we can throw in their faces.
At some point maybe I'll feel satisfaction that the biggest cudgel the forced-birthers have been using against us has suddenly disintegrated into dust. I imagine, though, one has to stop feeling the pain from the cudgel first. How many women changed the course of their lives as a result of that lie? Perhaps not many...it's really impossible to know. But her "conversion" was frequently weaponized and used to inflict emotional distress on women during their most vulnerable and private moments.
It's hard, though, for me to feel angry at her. The documentary claims to show that the pro-choice movement used her, too, then "held her at arm's length" because she was not exactly the perfect poster girl for the movement. So, shame on us, too. Yet, at worst, I simply feel ambivalence toward her. As a wise friend said on Facebook, "Hurt people hurt people," and she was most assuredly a "hurt people."
There may never be any real feelings of resolution that might come my way about this. No one wins. After all, what is this, really, other than just one more way the right-wing evangelical Christians have lied and paid people off for the sole purpose of shaming and controlling women? At least they don't have this one going forward.
At any rate, I'll be watching on Friday.
[Hulu, "AKA Jane Roe"]