In a new documentary released Friday, May 22, Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe V. Wade, reveals that she was paid by anti-abortion factions to switch her position from supporting to opposing abortion rights for women.
McCorvey was the daughter of a violent, alcoholic mother and grew up in extreme poverty. She was a poor single mother in 1969 when she became pregnant with a third child. She sought an abortion but lived in Texas, where abortion was outlawed.
Unable to travel to a state where abortion was legal, she was seeking other ways to terminate her pregnancy when two Dallas attorneys, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, approached her offered to make her the plaintiff in a legal case challenging Texas’ prohibition on abortions.
Anonymized as “Jane Roe,” Weddington and Coffee filed the legal case on McCorvey’s behalf in 1970 challenging the government’s control over women’s reproductive choices.
In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of McCorvey, handing women throughout America the right to control their own reproductive decisions.
For about 20 years after the conclusion of the court case, McCorvey was an outspoken advocate for a woman’s right to obtain a safe, legal abortion.
Conversion to anti-abortion
In 1995, McCorvey quit her job as a counselor at an abortion clinic, announced she had become a Christian and was baptized in a backyard swimming pool in an event that the anti-abortion movement filmed for broadcast on national television. She teamed up with the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, started publicly decrying the decision the Supreme Court had made in her case, and actively worked to have the ruling overturned.
Her conversion perplexed and disappointed women across the country.
In an interview for that documentary, McCorvey made what she called her “deathbed confession,” in which she revealed that her anti-abortion activism had been “all an act.” She said she engaged in it because she was paid to do it, adding that she didn’t care whether any woman got an abortion or not.
Nick Sweeney, the filmmaker, has a law degree and tracked down records showing Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion groups had paid McCorvey almost $500,000 to become a figurehead in their movement.
“I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing,” McCorvey said. “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,” she said. “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.” She added, “I am a good actress.”
Evangelical pastor and former militant anti-abortion leader Robert Schenk, who worked with McCorvey, said in the documentary that his group had paid McCorvey to speak out against abortion.
“Her name and photo would command some of the largest windfalls of dollars for my group and many others, but the money we gave her was modest. More than once, I tried to make up for it with an added check, but it was never fair,” Schenk said.
On his website about the movie and reflecting on his relationship with McCorvey, Schenck writes,
In the film, I admit Norma was for me a kind of trophy—a beloved one—but a trophy none-the-less. We held her up, showed her off, paraded her around. What we didn’t do was listen deeply to her pain and beg her pardon for objectifying her.
McCorvey died of congestive heart failure in 2017 at age 69.
The documentary about her life, “A.K.A. Jane Roe,” is fascinating and gives a much fuller picture of who McCorvey really was as a human being. It is available on Hulu, which is offering a 7 day free trial and costs only $5.99/month after that.