Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion throughout the United States, said she had later spoken out on behalf of the anti-abortion movement only because she was paid to do so, according to a new documentary.
McCorvey made the revelation just months before her death in 2017, according to the 80-minute documentary, AKA Jane Roe, which was made available to reporters ahead of its Friday premiere on FX. She said that her support for the anti-abortion movement in the later years of her life had been an act.
"I was the big fish," McCorvey says in the documentary, which was filmed in the last few months of her life and was directed by Nick Sweeney. "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."
She adds, "I am a good actress."
McCorvey was a polarizing and inconsistent figure in the abortion debate, and her latest revelation in the documentary is unlikely to stem any dispute over which side she favored. Each claims the other used her.
The truth is that she was exploited by both, said Joshua Prager, a New York journalist who interviewed her extensively and is writing a biography of McCorvey.
"To say it happened on one side of the aisle but not the other is unfair," said Prager, who spent hundreds of hours with McCorvey in the last four years of her life. "She was coached on both sides, and she was paid on both sides."
Prager said that she believed women should have the right to choose whether to have an abortion through the first trimester. "She worried she would be responsible for the deaths of millions of babies, but she also worried that a woman may find herself in dire straits and may want an abortion and need an abortion -- up to a point," he said.
In 1970, when McCorvey was five months pregnant with her third child and wanted to have an abortion, two Dallas lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, represented her in a case challenging Texas laws that prohibited abortions except to save a mother's life.
When the proceedings reached the Supreme Court three years later, the court ruled 7-2 in Roe v. Wade that privacy rights under the due process and equal rights clauses of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion in a pregnancy's first trimester.
In the aftermath of the case, McCorvey stayed anonymous. But in the 1980s, she emerged from the sidelines, attending rallies and protest marches in support of abortion rights, working in women's clinics and giving speeches.
In 1995, however, McCorvey switched sides and became an ardent anti-abortion campaigner. She quit her job as marketing director at a Dallas abortion clinic, A Choice for Women, and joined the staff of Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion group that had moved its headquarters next door to the clinic where she had worked.
In the documentary, the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister, says that anti-abortion groups paid McCorvey to speak out against abortion because they were afraid she would go back to the abortion-rights side.
Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group, said that the group had paid McCorvey honorariums to speak but that she had not received payment to lie about her views.
"You couldn't tell Norma to say anything she didn't want to say," said Newman, who became friends with McCorvey in 1995.
A Section on 05/21/2020
Print Headline: In documentary, Roe plaintiff says she switched sides for pay