Politics & Policy

The Pro-Life Cause Doesn’t Rest on Jane Roe’s Shoulders

There are reasons to doubt new claims about Norma McCorvey’s activism, but in any case her conversion isn’t the heart of the pro-life movement.

According to a new documentary being released later this week, Norma McCorvey — better known as Jane Roe, the plaintiff in the infamous Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade — faked her eventual conversion to the pro-life movement.

McCorvey’s story has been fairly well known among abortion opponents and advocates alike for several decades. Her attempt to obtain an abortion in Texas became the catalyst for the 1973 court case that legalized abortion on demand, through all nine months of pregnancy, across the entire country. Several decades later, while working at an abortion clinic, McCorvey met Evangelical pro-lifers and eventually became a pro-life activist and speaker herself. She converted first to Evangelical Christianity and later to Roman Catholicism.

Now, we are being asked to believe that the work she did during her final decades was a sham. In the new documentary, filmmaker Nick Sweeney asks McCorvey in an interview conducted shortly before her death in 2017, “Did [Evangelicals] use you as a trophy?”

“Of course,” she replies. “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.” The documentary also reports that McCorvey received about $450,000 in “benevolent gifts” from pro-lifers.

It is worth noting a few reasons to doubt the spin that media outlets are putting on these revelations. For one thing, it isn’t at all unusual for activists or public speakers to receive compensation for their work — in fact, it would be more surprising to find out that she wasn’t paid for everything she did. The testimony of public figures with personal experience is especially valuable, and it shouldn’t be considered especially controversial that those figures are often hired to promote the message that their experience supports. The fact that McCorvey was paid to speak about her change of heart doesn’t, in itself, mean that her conversion was insincere or motivated by financial considerations.

Consider, too, her subsequent conversion to Catholicism, her choice to speak with a priest on the day she died, and her decision to have a Catholic funeral. Presumably she wasn’t paid to do any of that. In her second biography, Won by Love, McCorvey writes movingly about her belief in forgiveness, mercy, the Eucharist, and her first holy communion, a passage unrivaled in its beauty by nearly any spiritual writing I’ve ever encountered. It is difficult to imagine that such conviction could be faked.

Meanwhile, I’m aware of several firsthand accounts from journalists and pro-life activists who spoke with McCorvey off the record or worked with her in person, all of whom say they never doubted she was sincere in her pro-life convictions.

“I prayed with Norma McCorvey in front of an abortion facility for the 40 Days for Life-Dallas campaign just before she died,” Lauren Muzyka, executive director of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, tweeted yesterday after the news of the documentary broke. “That and so many other activities she did with our Dallas #prolife community were unpaid. There was no doubt in our minds she was pro-life.”

Even so, there of course remains the possibility that McCorvey’s views were staged, at least to some extent, or that she began to support legal abortion again later in life and regretted her choice to become a pro-life advocate, leading to her interview in the new documentary. If that were the case, it does nothing to undermine the case against abortion.

The abortion-rights activists celebrating her interview in this documentary are the very same activists who have spent decades insisting that McCorvey’s conversion to the pro-life movement proved nothing about whether abortion should be legal and had nothing to do with the substance of the Roe v. Wade decision. And they were right.

While pro-lifers understandably appreciated the gravity and symbolism of McCorvey’s apparent change of heart — and some likely were too willing to use her as a totem in their political campaigns — the truth or falsehood of her story has no bearing on the facts.

This new iteration of the fight over her legacy illustrates a common problem with our abortion debate. Instead of considering facts as they stand, supporters of abortion prefer to retreat into rhetorical games, quibbling over the terms we use to describe abortion procedures. Instead of admitting the undemocratic nature of Roe and the resulting jurisprudential landscape, they crow about a documentary suggesting that a vulnerable woman first manipulated by their side was later manipulated by their opponents.

Regardless of McCorvey, the majority decision in Roe was politically motivated, anti-constitutional gibberish founded on false testimony. Regardless of McCorvey, every abortion ends a human life. No bombshell revelation does anything to alter those facts.

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