'AKA Jane Roe' Review: Abortion rights documentary is bigger than Norma McCorvey's 'deathbed confessions'
In 1973, a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court led to the legalization of abortion rights — rights that are now being threatened under the current administration. When the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute banning abortion, it effectively legalized the procedure across the country. The court held that a woman's right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Prior to Roe vs Wade, abortion had been illegal throughout much of the country since the late 19th century.
At the center of the decision was the anonymous Jane Roe, whose case got lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington to fight on her behalf. Roe never attended a single trial and soon after the Supreme Court made a decision, Norma McCorvey revealed herself to be Jane Roe. McCorvey is often considered a questionable personality through pro-choice and pro-life discussions. McCorvey initially claimed her pregnancy was the result of rape but later backtracked on those claims.
In the 1990s, McCorvey claimed to be a "born again Christian" and then became an anti-abortion activist. In her book, 'Won By Love', she described her religious conversion and said that her change of heart occurred in 1995 when she saw a fetal development poster in an Operation Rescue office. Operation Rescue was an anti-abortion group.
However, in Nick Sweeney's latest documentary that aired on FX, 'AKA Jane Roe', McCorvey revealed in her "deathbed confessions" that she was paid to be an anti-abortion activist. "It was all an act," she says in the documentary. In the final scene of 'AKA Jane Roe', a near-death McCorvey is asked if she felt she was a "trophy" to the pro-life movement, and she says, "Of course. I was the Big Fish. I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say... I'm a good actress. Of course, I'm not acting now."
It was also revealed that McCorvey had never had an abortion — she went on to place the baby for adoption. Attorneys Weddington and Coffee sought as their plaintiff a poor woman who would have had difficulty traveling to a state with less restrictive abortion laws than Texas, where the suit was filed, and McCorvey fit the bill. McCorvey only found out through the newspaper that the attorneys had won their case. When one of her lawyers phoned her to relay their victory, McCorvey disagreed that she'd "won." She recalls telling the attorney "you won".
McCorvey passed away in 2016 and for much of 'AKA Jane Roe', the viewer understands her to be an unreliable narrator — as has probably been the case during her lifetime. As such, her "deathbed confessions" don't turn out to have as much of a shocking impact as the director would have hoped. Nevertheless, 'AKA Jane Roe' is a documentary that needs to be watched. It shows us why the movement for the rights of all people should not be centered on the experience of one person alone. Moreover, as states try to reverse Roe vs Wade, it becomes more important than ever to understand what lies at stake.
'AKA Jane Roe' can be streamed on Hulu from May 23.