A Pro-Life Activist Looks at AKA Jane Roe

By Peter Wolfgang Published on May 26, 2020

I don’t have any first-hand experiences of Norma McCorvey to offer. The famous “Jane Roe” of the Supreme Court’s notorious Roe v. Wade decision, she’s claimed that the pro-life movement used her. Pro-lifer leaders even paid her to tell the pro-life story. So she says in the new documentary AKA Jane Roe, now streaming on Hulu.

I don’t believe it. At least not entirely.

Yes and No

Even if they have her on film saying it. I don’t trust the filmmakers. The film is obviously an agenda-driven posthumous hit job on someone who caused the pro-abortion side a lot of grief. And the woman was on her deathbed and not well. Shame on them.

I know the pro-life movement. I’ve been involved in it for almost three decades. I’m the face of the movement in Connecticut. The movement’s good sides and its bad sides, I’ve seen them both.

Though the filmmakers had an agenda, does that mean their movie’s entirely false? Probably not. Norma McCorvey had her demons. She didn’t have the polish of her pro-abortion handlers, which was one of the reasons she split from them. The pro-choice movement used her.

Did the pro-life movement take her up because she was the perfect witness against Roe v. Wade? Of course. Is it possible that eager pro-lifers pushed her into a role she didn’t really want to play? Is it possible that some manipulated her, unconsciously or even consciously? Of course.

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Is it implausible that she told the pro-lifers who first converted her “I need money” and they gave her money? No. In fact, there are records to that effect.

But does the full blown narrative the filmmakers crafted automatically follow from that? No. Is it the expose of the pro-life movement so many people say it is? Again, no.

Her Famous Conversion

I remember McCorvey’s famous conversion. I remember her saying, even then, that she still supported abortion in the first trimester and that she was in “the mushy middle”. Not exactly on-script for a paid pro-life hack.

I remember her moving descriptions of empty swings, how she realized those children weren’t there, were never born, because of something she helped set in motion. She seemed to feel real sorrow. Critics have said that the line’s too perfect. She must have made it up, or someone gave it to her. But why? It’s exactly the kind of thing a sensitive person would see.

I remember, even then, scorned pro-abortion journalists reacting to all of it with fury. And with takes on McCorvey eerily similar to our own. There was one half-sympathetic female reporter — at Rolling Stone? Ms. Magazine? — who wrote a whole article recalling her own history with McCorvey when she was pro-abortion. She wrote about how needy McCorvey was. How she would call the reporter late at night, crying. Even how annoying the reporter found her.

The reporter’s point was McCorvey never fit in with her pro-abortion handlers, socio-economic wise, she had deep issues. This was (the reporter felt), why she really switched sides. The reporter wanted to offer some perspective, but also to throw cold water on McCorvey’s news-making conversion. Just like AKA Jane Roe.

McCorvey’s Later Conversion

Speaking of conversions, how does one explain McCorvey’s later conversion to Catholicism? She said at the time that she was returning to “the mother church of Christianity.” It seems unlikely that Flip Bentham — the evangelical pastor who baptized her — paid her to say that. Or any Catholic, for that matter.

And what of Rev. Rob Schenck, who appears in AKA Jane Roe explaining how he and other pro-life leaders use McCorvey? He’s already turned on the pro-life movement and now supports Roe v. Wade.

How can he be trusted to give an unbiased account when running down his previous associations is now his own paid schtick? And has a book to sell explaining how he left all that conservative stuff behind? We can question how much he corroborates McCorvey’s last story. 

Did the filmmakers manipulate a dying woman on her deathbed? Was the money McCorvey got after she became pro-life all really just the sleazy thing described in AKA Jane Roe? Or was some (perhaps a lot) of it simply what she was paid for taking a professional position in the movement?

Untrusted Filmmakers

I don’t know. As I said, some pro-lifers could have exploited her. We’re people fighting for the lives of the unborn — lives the people like the filmmakers want to keep vulnerable. It would be easy to step over the line. 

We don’t claim to be perfect. We’re sinners just like everyone else. But we do claim to know what’s true and good in this case. Maybe Norma McCorvey joined us out of conviction or out of self-interest, or out of both. Whatever the case, she was right when she defended the unborn. 

Still, I don’t trust the filmmakers. We are closer to overturning Roe v. Wade than at any time since the late 1980s. The moment feels very much like that period, the one that ran from about 1989-1992. Now, as then, the pro-abortion side will use their greater cultural power to hit us with every piece of propaganda that they can. The lies will grow and grow.


Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut Action. He lives in Waterbury, Connecticut, with his wife and their seven children. The views expressed on The Stream are solely his own.

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