“The anti-choice movement will have a field-day with this and exploit it for all it’s worth.” These are words of Kate Michelman, former head of the National Abortion Rights Action League, spoken on the August 10, 1995 airing of ABC News Nightline. Michelman was lamenting the negative impact of the conversion of Norma McCorvey—“Jane Roe” of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision—to the pro-life movement. Led into the movement by Evangelical preacher Flip Benham and fresh from the baptismal waters, Norma was now “on the other side” and a traitor to the pro-choice cause.
Twenty-five years later, Michelman’s words are echoing in the mouths of nearly every pro-lifer: “The pro-choice movement will have a field-day with this and exploit it for all it’s worth.” I am referring to fall-out of the movie AKA Jane Roe, which premiered on the FX network May 22. The movie, produced and directed by Australian film-maker Nick Sweeny—whose credits include The Sex Robots are Coming and Transgender Kids Camp—dropped like a bomb in the abortion wars. Despite disavowing her role in legalized abortion, and despite her attempts to actually reverse Roe v. Wade, the McCorvey of AKA Jane Roe is depicted as having faked her pro-life position. With help from ex-pro-lifer Robert Schenck, McCorvey accuses the pro-life movement of shamefully using and exploiting her as their “trophy.” McCorvey says she only mouthed the pro-life line because she was paid by pro-lifers to do so.
Prior to May 22, segments of the film were previewed to journalists, resulting in a barrage of sensational headlines, such as this one from the Daily Beast: “Jane Roe’s Deathbed Confession: Anti-Abortion Conversion ‘All an Act’ Paid for by the Christian Right.” The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and every secular media outlet in between has castigated the pro-life movement and declared that McCorvey was not genuinely against abortion after all. As Norma died in 2017, just months after her interviews with Sweeny, she is unable to confirm or refute the message of the film and the way her words are used in it.
With copious photos and videos, AKA Jane Roe deserves praise for an engaging and detailed story of Norma’s difficult and stormy life. From literally the moment of conception her life was off to a rocky start, as Norma narrates over childhood photos: “My mother didn’t want a second child. Me!” Her upbringing was hellish, with an abusive, alcoholic mother and a father who abandoned the family. From the start she felt worthless and unwanted. Already at the tender age of 10, McCorvey experienced same-sex attraction and even ran away with a childhood friend with whom she had her first lesbian experiences. She married at the age of 16 and divorced by 17, but not before giving birth to a daughter she named Melissa. At various stages of her life she would be a drug addict, a drug dealer, and an alcoholic.
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