FX Networks (a Walt Disney Company) is about to release the documentary AKA Jane Roe, the story of Norma McCorvey, the woman whose challenge of Texas law led to the 1973 U.S. Court ruling that struck down many state and federal abortion laws.
Ms. McCorvey was 21, unmarried, and pregnant for the third time when she was referred to lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, who were looking for a way to challenge and overturn Texas’s abortion laws. That was in 1969. Long before the case reached the Supreme Court, McCorvey’s baby had been born and given up for adoption.
In the mid-1990s, McCorvey made a very public conversion to Christianity, was baptized in a nationally televised event, left her job at an abortion clinic, and became a very public anti-abortion advocate. She published a book in 1998, recounting her conversion, and continued protesting abortion for more than two decades.
A few months before her death, however, she made another highly publicized, filmed for television “deathbed confession,” as she called it, saying that her anti-abortion advocacy was all an act. She said she was paid handsomely (FX puts is around $500,000) to say the things she had said and claimed it made no difference to her whether “a young woman wants to have an abortion.”
Ms. McCorvey went on to say proudly that she was “a good actress,” then added, “Of course, I am not acting now.” But who knows? She had played the actress so frequently in her life, it is possible she could no longer tell whether she was acting or not.
Before being referred to the lawyers who took her case to the Supreme Court, McCorvey tried to get a legal abortion by claiming she had been gang raped by a group of black men. The investigation, however, was dropped for lack of evidence, and McCorvey later admitted it was all an act.
It would be easy to attack Ms. McCorvey’s character, but that would be a mistake. She was a person, created and loved by God, who had been subjected to abuse and manipulation throughout her life. Her mother was an alcoholic, reputed to be violent. Her father abandoned the family. She was made a ward of the state at age 11 and was repeatedly institutionalized.
McCorvey was misused again and again. Her mother tricked her into giving up her daughter for adoption. Her attorneys took her case because they saw her as a tool for overturning abortion laws. The evangelical Christians she met in the mid-nineties saw her as a tool for reversing Roe v. Wade. Did the executives at Disney see her as a tool for bolstering ratings?
Mercenary TV executives and lawyers are so common as to be cliché. It is the religious people in this story who sadden and repulse me. Somehow, they thought it was morally acceptable to manipulate a woman who had been manipulated her entire life. They thought they could somehow exploit a human being in the name of Jesus.
What they did was outrageous. It was sinful. The Reverend Rob Schenck, who has himself made a very public about-face on abortion, was one of those involved. He now says: “I knew what we were doing … and I wondered: ‘Is she playing us?’ What I didn’t have the guts to say was: ‘Because I know … we’re playing her.’”
I oppose abortion and expect that future Americans (including the irreligious) will too. They will look on this period in our history with bewilderment and think it barbaric: the bad old days of racial hatred, wars, and millions upon millions of elective abortions.
Abortion stains our history. Nevertheless, if it took but a single lie or act of exploitation to end abortion, it would be wrong to do so. Jesus himself would not do it. Abortion will never be legislated out of existence, though legislation is needed. It will never be shamed out of existence – that has already been tried. It will only be loved out of existence and that is the work of the church.
I wonder: What would Norman McCorvey’s life have been like had she been loved at age 11 rather than institutionalized? No one knows but, perhaps, things would have been different.
First published by Gatehouse Media