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  • Elizabeth Murray

AKA Jane Roe Review

AKA Jane Roe (2020) is a documentary about the true life and views of Norma McCorvey. Going under the name Jane Roe, she was the plaintiff in the famous Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. After years of involvement with the pro-choice movement, she “converted” to the pro-life movement. In the documentary, Norma reveals her shocking truth about her involvement with the pro-life movement.

“This is my death bed confession,” Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. Jane Roe, says looking into the camera. The footage then cuts to decades worth of newsreels describing Ms. McCorvey and who she is but never having her speak. One would assume, an analogy to Roe v. Wade and her role in the case. We then see McCorvey strolling through a local park in Katy, Texas, describing her philosophies on life, and quoting Shakespeare. McCorvey comes off as likable, witty, and foulmouthed, but honest. She was quirky, glamorous, and often made jokes. 

McCorvey had a rough childhood: she survived abuse from family members, had trouble with the law, was married at the age of 16 but left when her husband hit her, and gave birth to a daughter when she was still in her teens. She also faced struggles with her family’s acceptance of her sexuality, and her mother later used it as grounds to take custody of McCorvey’s daughter. In 1969 McCorvey was an addict and became pregnant. She lied and told her doctor she was raped and was referred to an abortion clinic. McCorvey went to the clinic but after seeing the awful conditions she left and decided to put the baby up for adoption. The adoption attorney she met then referred her to two young Texas lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, who were looking to overturn the state’s abortion laws. She was the ideal plaintiff since the case needed a poor woman who could not afford to go to the states where abortion was legal. The case was successful, but, as McCorvey emphasizes she never had an abortion, all she wanted was to make sure no woman ever had to go through the same experience as she did. 

The documentary tackles both sides of the abortion debate, and McCorvey’s experience with each, by interviewing the pro-choice and pro-life leaders. A few years after Roe v. Wade, McCorvey decided to become more involved with the pro-choice movement. She wanted to use her story to speak up, but many leaders opposed this because she wasn’t educated or an amazing public speaker.  The pro-life movement effectively demonized McCorvey as she was seen as the poster for abortion. They show images of protests, the violence that broke out, bombings of clinics, and the attack on McCorvey’s own home before a women’s march on Washington.  Flip Benham, who is probably one of the most extreme pro-life leaders, even went so far as to move the office of his organization next to the abortion clinic McCorvey worked at. There he supposedly converted her into becoming a born again Christian causing her to switch her stance on the debate and end the lesbian relationship she was in at the time. Robert Schneck, a former pro-life leader turned critic of the movement, described McCorvey’s conversion as “being given the academy award.”

The most jaw-dropping moment in the documentary is when McCorvey reveals that her involvement with the pro-life movement was all an act, that she was told what to say in front of the cameras, and that she was paid. Tax records show that McCorvey received a little over $450,000 from various pro-life groups.  McCorvey’s admission is shown to pro-choice activists who knew her, such as Flip Benham, and Schneck. The reactions are emotional, and many expressed shock. Benham, while not denying that she was paid, asserts that it wasn’t an act. Schneck has probably the most interesting reaction. He confirms what McCorvey said and even expresses regret over the relationship with her, as well as his hunch that she was using them as they used her.

McCorvey died in 2017 and the filmmakers of AKA Jane Roe were able to attend her funeral. The final scenes of the movie consist of McCorvey explaining her pro-choice views on abortion to the camera as if she was speaking from the grave. The documentary gives McCorvey a chance to tell her own story without the background noise of an ongoing debate. McCorvey acknowledges the hardships she faced throughout her life and the change she brought about. The documentary also tackles the future of Roe v. Wade, McCorvey believed it would never be overturned. That’s the opened ended question the documentary leaves the audience with after witnessing the life of Jane Roe and her legacy.

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