A new documentary claims to unlock the story of Norma McCorvey, also known as “Jane Roe” in the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. But pro-life leaders are warning that it doesn’t show the full picture.
Released on May 22, FX documentary AKA Jane Roe centers on McCorvey, the woman whose unwanted pregnancy prompted the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide. McCorvey, who passed away in 2017, later turned against abortion and converted to Christianity and, then, Catholicism. But the new film shows her agreeing that her pro-life work was actually an “act.”
FX advertised the documentary as a “portrait of Norma McCorvey” that “unravels the mysteries closely guarded” by her. In other words, it offered viewers her self-described “deathbed confession.”
When McCorvey is asked if she was used as a trophy, she responds, “Of course. I was the Big Fish.” She later adds that 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,” McCorvey says. “I am a good actress.”
At another point, she interjects, “If a young woman wants to have an abortion—fine. That’s no skin off my ass.”
Pro-life leaders who knew her personally – and who did not appear in the documentary – say that McCorvey’s story is more complicated.
On May 21, Operation Rescue released an open letter addressed to FX Chairman John Landgraf and Director Nick Sweeney. Signed by 26 pro-life leaders who knew McCorvey, the letter requested the unedited footage “to see for ourselves just what was left on the proverbial cutting room floor.”
The “woman we knew personally does not resemble the women portrayed on FX, which is why we skeptically reject a production that came out after Norma’s death, when she couldn’t correct the record for herself and which contradicted her earlier statements,” they challenged.
The signers included the Center for Medical Progress Project Lead David Daleiden, LifeNews Editor Steven Ertelt, Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins, Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, and Priests for Life National Director Fr. Frank Pavone.
Many of them also rejected the documentary in personal statements.
“So #abortion supporters are claiming Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of Roe v Wade, wasn't sincere in her conversion. She was,” Fr. Pavone tweeted on May 19. “I was her spiritual guide for 22 years, received her into the #Catholic Church, kept regular contact, spoke w her the day she died, & conducted her funeral.”
Father Pavone stressed that “Her desire to protect children in the womb was no act,” in a Priests for Life statement released on May 19.
In that same statement, Janet Morana, the executive director of Priests for Life, said that she and McCorvey were friends for decades.
“Her daughter Melissa called Father Pavone and me on the day she was dying, and both of us spoke to Norma,” Morana remembered. “She made me promise that we would continue to fight the unjust decision made in her name.”
Kristan Hawkins tweeted out a photo of herself standing beside McCorvey.
“Jane Roe (Norma McCorvey) always spoke w/ passion about her pro-life convictions,” Hawkins tweeted on May 19. “The woman that I personally knew lived a painful & complicated life, but spoke directly about how she felt about it.”
As the executive director of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, Lauren Muzyka tweeted on May 19 that she had “prayed with Norma McCorvey in front of an abortion facility for the 40 Days for Life-Dallas campaign just before she died.”
“That and so many other activities she did with our Dallas #prolife community were unpaid,” Muzyka concluded. “There was no doubt in our minds she was pro-life.”
Former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson tweeted on May 19 that McCorvey had been “used by both sides of the abortion debate.” She added that “Norma was VERY ill” and “not mentally well” and yet “She was prolife in death.”
She pointed to a conversation she had with McCorvey just days before her death.
McCorvey “told me that she called because she needed to talk to someone else who had a ‘big number,’” Johnson said in a Facebook post on May 20, referring to the number of abortions that they felt each responsible for in their past.
“She owned my 22,000,” Johnson said. McCorvey “felt like she owned them all. Every abortion that had been committed under the law that bore her name…‘Jane Roe’...they were ‘hers.’”
“Her tearful conversation (which I will keep private) with me days before her death was not a lie. The hours she spent praying in front of abortion facilities was not a lie. Her life with Christ was not a lie,” Johnson said.
She revealed a part of that “private” conversation to Slate in a piece published on May 22.
McCorvey “wanted to know if I believed that when she died, if she would be held accountable for all the babies who were killed because of her,” Johnson said. “I don’t have any problem believing that in the last year of her life that she tried to convince herself abortion was OK. But I know at the end of her life, she did not believe that.”
In a May 20 press release, Operation Rescue President Troy Newman also chimed in. He responded to accusations that Operation Rescue paid McCorvey to say she was pro-life.
“Operation Rescue loved, respected, and protected Norma,” Newman said. “The FX movie does not portray the real Norma McCorvey, who I knew well and called my friend. I saw her in unguarded moments and can verify she was 100 percent pro-life.”
It would be interesting to see the filmmakers address these comments – or to have the possibility to ask McCorvey. Regardless, the pro-life movement has never been about whether one person supports or opposes abortion. It’s about the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.