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How Nick Sweeney Got Jane Roe’s Shocking Deathbed Confession

Norma McCorvey never knew who to trust. She was declared a ward of the state at 10. Then her father walked out, leaving her in the hands of an alcoholic mother and first cousin once removed, who she said raped her numerous times. By 16, she was married to Woody McCorvey. When he allegedly began abusing her, she left, giving birth to their daughter a year later. Norma drank to numb the pain, but it got so bad that her mom tricked her into signing adoption papers. She got pregnant a third time at 21, and, with little money and nowhere to turn, was passed on to a pair of attorneys who sought to challenge the country’s anti-abortion laws. The eventual Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, resulted in a landmark decision protecting a woman’s right to choose.

The “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade was none other than McCorvey. She never did have an abortion, giving birth—and putting the child up for adoption—while the case was still being argued. Nonetheless, she became the poster child for the pro-choice movement. That all changed in 1995, when McCorvey was approached by Flip Benham, an evangelical minister and head of the notorious anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. She became born again, separating from her longtime female partner, Connie; renounced her pro-choice past, maintaining she was used by the pro-choice crowd; and transformed into a fiery anti-abortion activist.

“It was all an act,” she confessed in a new documentary film.

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Jane Roe Confesses Anti-Abortion Conversion ‘All an Act’ Paid for by the Christian Right

In its final 20 minutes, the documentary film AKA Jane Roe delivers quite the blow to conservatives who have weaponized the story of Jane Roe herself—real name, Norma McCorvey—to argue that people with uteruses should have to carry any and all pregnancies to term.

McCorvey, who died in 2017, became Jane Roe when, as a young homeless woman, she was unable to get a legal or safe abortion in the state of Texas. Her willingness to lend her experience to the legal case for abortion led to the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973, which legalized abortions in all 50 states (though red states do all they can to get around this; recently, several have even used the COVID-19 pandemic to make abortions functionally impossible to procure). But conservatives had a field day in the mid ’90s when the assertive, media-savvy pro-choice advocate and activist McCorvey became an anti-abortion born-again ex-gay Christian with the help of leaders of the evangelical Christian right, Reverend Flip Benham (of the infamous Operation Rescue) and Reverend Rob Schenck. A conservative film, Roe v. Wade, starring Jon Voight and Stacey Dash, will dramatize McCorvey’s “conversion.”

But those filmmakers, and the rest of the pro-life evangelical community, have another curveball coming. 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.”

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.

Sweeney shows the video of McCorvey’s confession to her friends and acquaintances on the pro-abortion and anti-abortion sides, including pro-choice activist Charlotte Taft who, on the verge of tears, says, “That just really hurts because it’s big stakes. It’s just really big stakes.”

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.”

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