Jane Roe was the face of the abortion movement. Then she was paid thousands to switch sides.

Norma McCorvey was just 22 years old when she fell pregnant for the third time.

As an unmarried and unemployed young woman without stability, Norma sought to end her pregnancy.

She had a troubled childhood and a long history of run ins with law enforcement, plus issues with alcohol and drug use, and felt she was in no position to care for a child.

Explaining abortion to Uncle Barnaby. Post continues below video.

Video via Mamamia

At age 15, Norma had married 21-year-old Elwood McCorvey, but he, she stated, could be violent and she divorced him even before the birth of their first daughter, Melissa, when Norma was 16.

Melissa was adopted by Norma’s mother Mary.

At age 19, she became pregnant again. At birth, this baby was given to a waiting adoptive couple.

When she fell pregnant for a third time, it was 1969 and abortion was illegal in Texas, except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

Desperate, Norma resorted to visiting an underground abortion doctor but ended up walking out because of the “filth and cockroaches”.

So she decided to file a case. Under the pseudonym ‘Jane Roe’, she filed a case which would famously become known as Roe v Wade, to challenge the criminal abomination laws in Texas. Norma claimed that she had been raped, but in the end her case was rejected.

Despite being forced to give birth (the child was placed for adoption), Norma’s actions that day would go on to change the course of American history.

The case took three years of trials to reach the US Supreme Court in 1970 and another three years for the court to hand down its decision. In 1973, the Supreme Court handed down its historic 7-to-2 ruling, which finally saw the legalisation of abortion in all 50 states.

But by that time, Norma’s baby had already been given up for adoption.

Norma McCorvey (right) during a pro-choice rally, July 4, 1989 in Burbank, California. Image: Getty.

Norma revealed her identity to the press soon after the decision was reached. She stated she had sought an abortion as she was unemployable and living with depression. In 1983, she claimed she had fallen pregnant after being raped, but four years later claimed that was untrue.

In 1994, Norma published her autobiography; I Am Roe.

At a book signing she was approached by Flip Benham, an evangelical minister and an anti-abortion activist. Flip befriended Norma, and in 1995 she converted to Christianity and her baptism, by Flip in a Texas backyard swimming pool, was broadcast on national television.

Just two days later, she announced she had quit her job at an abortion clinic and had become an advocate for Flip's anti-abortion campaign to make the medical procedure illegal once again.

She stated she was remorseful for her role in the Supreme Court ruling.

The woman who had become the national symbol for the abortion rights movement in America, had now become a vocal figurehead for anti-abortion.

Throughout the rest of her life, Norma attempted to overturn Roe v Wade but was unsuccessful. She endorsed politicians based on their views on abortion, and was arrested on the first day of U.S. Senate hearings for the confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States of Sonia Sotomayor, a judge appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Norma died of heart failure on February 18, 2017, at the age of 69.


Despite years of campaigning against the change she helped instil, a new documentary claims Norma made a "deathbed confession" that she had never changed her mind on the importance of allowing women the choice to have a medical procedure in a safe environment. She was just paid to say she had.

In the documentary, AKA Jane Roe, Norma shares that she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Operation Rescue, now known as Operation Save America to pose as an anti-abortion rights activist.

"I was the big fish," Norma says in the documentary. "I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money, and they put me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say, and that's what I'd say.

"It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress. Of course, I'm not acting now."

In what she describes as her "deathbed confession" Norma restates her support for reproductive rights.

"If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that's no skin off my ass. That's why they call it choice," she added.

Her allegations are supported by two religious leaders who worked closely with Norma and now want to set the record straight.

"What we did with Norma was highly unethical. The jig is up," says Rev. Rob Schenck.

"I knew what we were doing, and there were times I wondered, 'Is she playing us?' And what I didn't have the guts to say was 'because I know damn well we were playing her'."

Schenck said he knew Norma was paid, because he "cut cheques and signed them and made them out to Norma".

He spoke to the filmmakers after realising his view on abortion was outdated.

"These days, I think I will never be pregnant, I will never face that crisis in my life," he said. "So I don't really think I'm the best person to advise on it. I think that's the woman in crisis."

AKA Jane Roe also traces Norma's troubled youth, how she became the face of the abortion rights movement and her about face in the 90s.

The documentary was filmed during the last year of Norma's life, and director Nick Sweeney told CNN he was surprised by her confession but understood why she shared it.

"Throughout her life, many different people wanted Norma to fit their preconceptions of Jane Roe," he said. "She just wanted to be unapologetically Norma."

AKA Jane Roe airs on Friday on the US channel FX.

Feature Image: FX.

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