Whoa…Norma McCorvey confesses that it was all an act


Norma McCorvey, who fought for the right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade, and then flipped to crusade against abortion under the influence of evangelicals, flipped again before her death — she was bought and paid for by the Religious Right.

In the final third of director Nick Sweeney’s 79-minute documentary, featuring many end-of-life reflections from McCorvey—who grew up queer, poor, and was sexually abused by a family member her mother sent her to live with after leaving reform school—the former Jane Roe admits that her later turn to the anti-abortion camp as a born-again Christian was “all an act.”

“This is my deathbed confession,” she chuckles, sitting in a chair in her nursing home room, on oxygen. Sweeney asks McCorvey, “Did [the evangelicals] use you as a trophy?” “Of course,” she replies. “I was the Big Fish.” “Do you think you would say that you used them?” Sweeney responds. “Well,” says McCorvey, “I think 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.” She even gives an example of her scripted anti-abortion lines. “I’m a good actress,” she points out. “Of course, I’m not acting now.”

The two jackhole Christians who ran the scam are both horrified, but split: one because the end justifies the means, the other because he actually has some moral principles.

Reverend Schenck, the much more reasonable of the two evangelical leaders featured in the film, also watches the confession and is taken aback. But he’s not surprised, and easily corroborates, saying, “I had never heard her say anything like this… But I knew what we were doing. And there were times when I was sure she knew. And I wondered, Is she playing us? What I didn’t have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we’re playing her.” Reverend Schenck admits that McCorvey was “a target,” a “needy” person in need of love and protection, and that “as clergy,” people like Schenck and Benham were “used to those personalities” and thus easily able to exploit her weaknesses. He also confirms that she was “coached on what to say” in her anti-abortion speeches. Benham denies McCorvey was paid; Schenck insists she was, saying that “at a few points, she was actually on the payroll, as it were.” AKA Jane Roe finds documents disclosing at least $456,911 in “benevolent gifts” from the anti-abortion movement to McCorvey.

Reverend Benham then blurts out, “Yeah, but she chose to be used. That’s called work. That’s what you’re paid to be doing!” Schenck’s thinking is quite different: “For Christians like me, there is no more important or authoritative voice than Jesus,” he explains. “And he said, ‘What does it profit in the end if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?’ When you do what we did to Norma, you lose your soul.”

In fact, Reverend Schenck underlines his own conversion, which took place in the last decade: “I still identify as an evangelical, but I like to think of myself as lovingly critical of my community. I guess in some ways I’d like to use whatever years I have remaining to undo the damage that I did and that many movement leaders did on the pro-life side. I used to think that Roe v. Wade would never be overturned. I think Roe v. Wade could be overturned now. And I think the result of that would be chaos and pain. And to impose that kind of crisis on a woman is unthinkable.”

Fortunately, the pro-choice cause does not rely on the bought testimony of individuals, but on the autonomy of all women.

Comments

  1. says

    Second wave white feminism strikes again. She sold out millions of women for her own personal gain. That’s worse than a religious perversion.

    It wasn’t a “change of heart”, it was a change of heartless.

  2. says

    For $400k I’ll say anything about anyone – and it’s all completely true. You’d have to be crazy to turn down cash like that, especially if you “Marjoe” them at the end.

  3. aspleen says

    @1

    You can apologize for insulting feminist women back in the 1960s and 1970s who fought for abortion rights anytime now.

    As for McCorvey and her death-bed confession, it’s nice but the fact that her conversion to the pro-life cause was accompanied by financial gifts was a red flag even back then. She sold them her story to support the claim that women regretted their abortions, and that did do real harm to women.

  4. dontlikeusernames says

    Not at all surprising and thankfully this “deathbed confession” was actually recorded. I suppose there’s still “room” for yet-another-deathbed-confession to tack on for conspiracy theory minded conservatives.

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 5

    I’m sure the right wing will start screaming about “DEEP FAKES” created by the “Abortion Industry’s “ allies in “Communist Hollywood” to delegitimize McCorvey’s conversation and slander the “pro-life” movement.

    Right now, any insane conspiracy theory can and will be deployed.

  6. chrislawson says

    Intransitive — what the hell? Why would you denigrate all of second-wave feminism because one member out of millions sold out to evangelicals?

  7. says

    Interestingly this comes out the same week as an article about an ex “gender critical” woman. You’ll see that they, in fact use similar tactics on vulnerable women. Not surprising, given that they are often in alliance with the anti abortion right.

    chris lawson and aspleen
    Learn how to read, will you? Intransitive did not insult all of second wave feminism and all women who stood up for bodiliy autonomy back in the 60s and 70s. She wrote “white” as well, and there has been a whole fucking lot of writing about the missing intersectionalism of quite some parts of the feminist movement then and now, especially the parts that concern white middle class women in the UK and USA. It’s debatable how much the story of a poor white woman using her one chance to escape poverty actually fits that description, but it doesn’t magically erase the persistent racism and classism demonstrated by white feminism. Just look at the UK where leading “feminists” claim that having a cleaner and making them come in during Corona is feminist because they don’t want to argue with their husbands and sons, and that private all girls boarding schools are a feminist thing.

  8. John Morales says

    Giliell, you intrigue me.

    Intransitive did not insult all of second wave feminism

    <reads> “Second wave white feminism strikes again.”

    She wrote “white” as well.

    Indeed.

    So, there is a distinction in your mind between ordinary “second wave feminism” and “white second wave feminism”.

    Care to elaborate on the criteria for that distinction?
    I mean, presumably it’s not just the skin colour of the feminist, right?

  9. =8)-DX says

    @giliell
    I mean you’re right on a lot of those points, but specifically on the issue of abortion and women’s right to choose, claiming that “white second-wave feminism” was anti-abortion is pretty much nonsense. When talking about “leading feminists” who display the decidedly anti-feminist and cisheteronormative bigotry you mention, in the UK and elsewhere these are pretty much individuals whose prominence is a result of white supremacist capitalist hegemony, not that they represent any intellectual basis of the feminist movement broadly or the second wave in particular.

    They’re people being propped up as feminists, because capitalism depends on patriarchal structures and needs figureheads to do so. It’s like pretending Christina Hoff Summers is in any meaningful way a feminist and just because journalists talked about Margaret Thatcher’s “woman power” doesn’t change the fact these people are all decidedly reactionary anti-feminists.
    =8/-DX

  10. A. Noyd says

    John Morales (#11)

    So, there is a distinction in your mind between ordinary “second wave feminism” and “white second wave feminism”.

    Why’d you move the “white”? There’s a distinction in feminist discourse between ordinary “feminism” and “white feminism,” no matter the wave.

  11. John Morales says

    A. Noyd, eh? It was inadvertent; honestly I can’t see the difference.

    But fine: replace “white second wave feminism” with “second wave white feminism”.

  12. A. Noyd says

    John Morales (#14)

    It was inadvertent; honestly I can’t see the difference.

    The point is, “white feminism” is a distinct concept. I’d have thought you’d already be familiar with it, hanging around here. Giliell didn’t mention “the missing intersectionalism of quite some parts of the feminist movement then and now” for no reason.

  13. John Morales says

    A. Noyd, fair enough. So, I gather white feminism is the feminism of non-marginalised people who don’t additionally subscribe to intersectionalism.

    (FWIW, a vast proportion of all I’ve learnt about feminism is from this blog and its citations)

  14. Owlmirror says

    The LA Times story has some additional details:

    McCorvey remembers learning of the [Supreme Court] decision in the newspaper and receiving a phone call from Weddington saying they’d won. “Why would I be excited? I had a baby, but I gave her away. It’s for all the women who come after me.”
    [ . . . ]
    “AKA Jane Roe” also shows how McCorvey was held at arm’s length by abortion rights proponents. After a decade of anonymity, McCorvey went public in the 1980s and began granting interviews, and was depicted in the Emmy-winning TV movie, “Roe vs. Wade,” starring Holly Hunter. But to the leaders of the abortion rights movement, the inconsistencies in her story — for a time McCorvey claimed she had gotten pregnant as the result of a rape, then said she had been lying — and lack of polish made her a less-than-ideal poster girl for the cause.

    She was working at an abortion clinic when she was “flipped” in 1995, I suppose doing OK, but not exactly well-off enough that evangelists dangling money in front of her nose would not have been very tempting. The “at arm’s length” thing probably didn’t help.

  15. says

    =8)-DX

    claiming that “white second-wave feminism” was anti-abortion is pretty much nonsense.

    Good thing nobody did that, eh?
    Now, I’ll leave Intransitive to elaborate on her own position, as I said, it’s debatable whether this is a good example of the failings of white feminism.
    On your other point, no. The current figureheads are and have widely been regarded as feminists in feminist circles like Stock, Bindel, Criado Perez, etc.

  16. says

    One real problem here it seems to me and something that Owlmirror mentioned, is that she didn’t receive any real support from leftists and feminists in general. Also, they weren’t particularly friendly apparently. Sad in many ways.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Amanda Marcotte just published a column about McCorvey and the wingnuts who used her that’s worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the issue.

    A few points come to mind. One, that the friction between McCorvey and Sarah Weddington & Co. reflects the serious class divide in the US – McC, an itinerant carnival worker at the time of her pregnancy in the early ’70s, was a rowdy redneck having very little in common with the pearl-necklace lawyers and other pre-yuppies who took her case to the US Supreme Court. That cultural gap went far beyond feminism, and weakened everything the left set hands to then and now.

    Two, McCorvey “switched sides” in 1995, 22 years after Roe v. Wade, almost 22 years before her death. The math works out as her having received a bit over $20K per year of her mercenary service to the right wing: hardly a high-profit selling-out. (I remember making jokes at the time, during a serious heat wave in Texas, that she’d taken up the antis’ offer because they gave her a [photographed] baptism in a nice swimming pool.) They also apparently found her hard to work with: not a lot of manual laborers among the leadership of the US right, either.

    Third, I think the pictures going around show a backdrop of McCorvey’s retirement-home room wall featuring pages from adult coloring books, presumably hand-painted (-pencilled?) by McC herself. It looks like she drew very carefully within the lines – a style very much at odds with all reports of her personality in her younger years.

  18. daverytier says

    So, I gather white feminism is the feminism of non-marginalised people who don’t additionally subscribe to intersectionalism.

    AKA, let’s my group attain equality, f the rest.

  19. says

    One concern of non-privileged (non_white?) people ( including trans men) is making sure abortion is not only available, but also affordable to low income people.

  20. rrhain says

    Alas, it leaves me simply with the feeling that she’s an unreliable narrator. Who on earth knows what it is that she really thinks?

  21. stroppy says

    $20K/year

    Not small potatoes to some on the margins. I once saw a guy get stabbed over $10. (He survived ok, btw.)

  22. brightmoon says

    I had a neighbor who was killed over$ 25 that he owed a drug dealer. I’m not judging her for getting that money . I know women who used to sell their bodies. She just lied for money to people she had no respect for and probably no reason to respect

  23. says

    Third, I think the pictures going around show a backdrop of McCorvey’s retirement-home room wall featuring pages from adult coloring books, presumably hand-painted (-pencilled?) by McC herself. It looks like she drew very carefully within the lines – a style very much at odds with all reports of her personality in her younger years.

    Wait, what? Dude, that’s a lot of deducing and some serious stereotyping here.

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    stroppy @ # 25: Not small potatoes to some on the margins.

    Just another indicator of McCorvey’s economic stratum.

    Giliell @ # 27: … that’s a lot of deducing and some serious stereotyping …

    I was neck-deep in pro-choice work at the time, and read numerous (and consistent) reports about McCorvey before and after her “conversion”. As for the “serious stereotyping”, did you notice that I pointed out a specific discrepancy with her previous public profile? It seems she changed over the years, in a way indicating maturation, and I thought (and think) that merits notice.

  25. John Morales says

    Silentbob, I’m not someone who worries about being cool. That’s for other people.

  26. says

    Pierce

    It seems she changed over the years, in a way indicating maturation, and I thought (and think) that merits notice.

    Pierce, the only thing yo can deduct from somebody carefully and lovingly handcolouring difficult colouring pics is that somebody is good at handcolouring and likes it. There’s nothing “mature” or “immature” about it. On the contrary, when the first adult colouring books came up people who liked them were shamed for being so childish. And I say that as somebody who hated colouring back as a child and hates it now but who also thinks that those colouring books are awesome for people who like them and has bought and gifted quite a number of them.

  27. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I do not think that it is classist to point out that selling out is considered bad form, regardless of class.

  28. stroppy says

    @ 28 Pierce R. Butler

    Kind of my point. Not sure what you’re getting at.

    The coloring book thing. I’m not going to try to unpack all that’s off about that comment and instead will just echo Giliell @ 33.

    I admit I’m not a follower of all things McCorvey. I suspect it’s possible that she was never a SJW, and was just someone with an issue that needed taken care of. Can’t walk in her shoes but don’t condemn or condone her for “selling out.”

    My takeaway is that it all points up once again what lot of bull the right-to-lifers are. What’s more the joke is on everyone. She’s been a nucleus accreting various projected agendas from the American political circus for so long; now the veil has dropped, and it’s kind of delicious.

  29. Pierce R. Butler says

    Giliell @ # 33 – I get the impression you haven’t gotten close to a lot of US rednecks. I have.

    And I certainly intend no disrespect to those who entertain themselves with coloring books, whether or not they stay within the lines.

    stroppy @ # 35: Kind of my point. Not sure what you’re getting at.

    We do not disagree here.

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