When Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, came out against abortion in 1995, it stunned the world and represented a huge symbolic victory for abortion opponents: “Jane Roe” had gone to the other side. For the remainder of her life, McCorvey worked to overturn the law that bore her name.
But it was all a lie, McCorvey says in a documentary filmed in the months before her death in 2017, claiming she only did it because she was paid by antiabortion groups including Operation Rescue.
“I was the big fish. 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. That’s what I’d say,” she says in “AKA Jane Roe,” which premieres Friday on FX. “It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”
In what she describes as a “deathbed confession,” a visibly ailing McCorvey restates her support for reproductive rights in colorful terms: “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”
Arriving in an election year as the Supreme Court is considering a high-profile abortion case with the potential to undermine Roe vs. Wade and several states across the country have imposed so-called “heartbeat laws” effectively banning the procedure, “AKA Jane Roe” is likely to provoke strong emotions on both sides of this perennial front in the culture wars.
Director Nick Sweeney says his goal was not necessarily to stir controversy, but to create a fully realized portrait of a flawed, fascinating woman who changed the course of American history but felt she was used as a pawn by both sides in the debate.
“The focus of the film is Norma. That’s what I really want people to take away from the film — who is this enigmatic person at the center of this very divisive issue,” he says. “With an issue like this there can be a temptation for different players to reduce ‘Jane Roe’ to en emblem or a trophy, and behind that is a real person with a real story. Norma was incredibly complex.”
Sweeney started making the film in April 2016, frequently visiting McCorvey in Katy, Texas. At first, he says, she was reticent, “but when she realized when I was not involved in the abortion debate she was very happy to open up.” Over the course of the time they spent together, McCorvey recounted details of her difficult upbringing — marked by abuse, neglect and a stint in reform school — turbulent personal life, including a short-lived teenage marriage, and a decades-long relationship with girlfriend Connie Gonzalez.
“I thought she was extremely interesting and enigmatic. I liked that her life was full of these fascinating contradictions,” says Sweeney, who also interviewed figures on either side of the abortion issue who were close to McCorvey, including attorney Gloria Allred and Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister and former leader of Operation Rescue.
McCorvey comes across as funny, sharp and unfiltered, with a broad performative streak. She rattles off lines from “Macbeth” and jokes, “I’m a very glamorous person — I can’t help it, it’s a gift.”
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SOURCE: LA Times, Meredith Blake