Human Interest

‘AKA Jane Roe’: Norma McCorvey’s longtime friends set the record straight

McCorvey, Roe

For over a decade, Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. “Jane Roe” of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the United States) worked to convince the Supreme Court to take her new case, McCorvey v. Hill—a case she hoped would undo the decision that bore her name. As the new documentary, “AKA Jane Roe,” nears its May 22nd debut on FX and Hulu, the decades-long fight to undo legalized abortion is coming under fire, with filmmakers attempting to rewrite history.

Filmmaker Nick Sweeney is selling his version of McCorvey’s life as “the real story,” though he spent what amounts to brief time with her in 2016, a few months before her death in February 2017. She had been ill for many years and was battling COPD when she allegedly told Sweeney that she sometimes felt used by the pro-life movement to advance its cause. “I was the big fish,” she allegedly says in the film, along with a purported “deathbed confession” that her work for the pro-life movement was “all an act.”

But while filmmaker Sweeney reportedly spent hours with McCorvey near the end of her life, her longtime friends in the pro-life movement knew her very personally for decades – up to the very end – and spoke to Live Action News about the Norma they knew.

Was Norma “used”?

Allan Parker, the Justice Foundation attorney who represented McCorvey (and Sandra Cano, the “Doe” of Doe v. Bolton) in her legal battle to undo Roe v. Wade, told Live Action News that it “was true” that McCorvey was “a big fish” in the pro-life movement. “Not a fish that [the pro-life movement] caught, but Norma… was a big deal because she was the Roe of Roe v. Wade,” he explained.

McCorvey went public as “Jane Roe” long before she became pro-life, and received a large amount of attention in pro-abortion circles. She wrote the book, “I am Roe” in the 1980s, and in 1987, she revealed to the world that in Roe, she had lied about being raped. In 1994, she revealed to The New York Times that her pro-abortion attorneys refused to tell her where to get an illegal abortion because they “needed [her] to be pregnant for [the Roe v. Wade] case.” She added, “[Pro-abortion attorney] Sarah [Weddington] saw these cuts on my wrists, my swollen eyes from crying, the miserable person sitting across from her, and she knew she had a patsy. She knew I wouldn’t go outside of the realm of her and Linda. I was too scared. It was one of the most hideous times of my life.” McCorvey has long stated that she was used by the pro-abortion movement and her attorneys to further their cause. And she has been described by many as having been troubled throughout her life.

In 1995, McCorvey began working in a Dallas abortion facility. Later that year, she met pro-lifers and left the abortion industry with their help.

McCorvey’s close friend of 22 years, Karen Garnett, told Live Action News that the two shared a “sisterhood” and throughout their friendship and pro-life activism together, McCorvey never let on to her that she felt used or exploited by the pro-life movement. It wasn’t until McCorvey was dying that Garnett learned from biographer Joshua Prager that McCorvey told him of her feelings. Garnett was shocked by this, and as she sat at McCorvey’s bedside with McCorvey’s daughter and granddaughter, she apologized to McCorvey for any hurt that may have been done to her by the pro-life movement. As far as Garnett is concerned, anything McCorvey felt hurt by was done without intent.

Regardless of the claims being made about her after her death, McCorvey was clearly determined to end abortion. From 2000 to 2012, Allan Parker worked with McCorvey at her request, pursuing every legal path they could, even filing a motion to request that the Supreme Court overturn her own case. Parker said, “She was deeply disappointed when the Supreme Court would not take her case again.”

That’s because it wasn’t money, said Parker, that had motivated McCorvey to leave the abortion industry behind and become pro-life. It was what she saw while she was working at A Choice for Women in Dallas, Texas, that led to her change of heart.

Evangelical Christian minister Flip Benham, who appears in the documentary and spoke to Live Action News, said McCorvey’s employers at the abortion business instructed her not to tell women anything that could cause them to back out of their abortions. But when she saw the bodies of aborted children and her conscience began to bother her, she did just that. Then when she was fired as a result, Benham, who was with Operation Rescue at the time (which was housed next to the abortion business) said he and other pro-lifers stepped in to help her. McCorvey also discussed this in her 1998 book, “Won By Love.”

Why would pro-lifers help McCorvey? According to Benham, “We do that for everybody who comes out of the abortion industry.” He said the abortionist who owned A Choice for Women had staff members sign a document stating they would not associate with anyone from Operation Rescue during office hours. If they did, they would be terminated. Despite this, about six workers eventually left A Choice for Women with the help of Operation Rescue, including McCorvey, who often spoke with Benham and other pro-lifers when she was taking cigarette breaks at the clinic.

In a 1995 interview (seen above), news anchor Ted Koppel asked McCorvey if she thought the pro-life movement would try to use her like she had been “used before” by the abortion proponents. She told him, “We’ve already talked about that a great length and there will not be any exploitation of my political status… The Right to Life people… a general conversation that Flip [Benham] and I had… I said I won’t have it. I’ve already been exploited enough [by the pro-abortion movement] to last me a lifetime… I’m volunteering for [pro-life group] Operation Rescue.”

When Koppel again pressed her on whether or not she was being used by Operation Rescue as she had felt she had been used by abortion activists, she boldly told him, “No, sir! And I will not let them use me.”

Was Norma “acting”?

McCorvey had already left the abortion industry when Reverend Rob Schenck (seen in the documentary), along with Benham, helped to convert McCorvey to Christianity—but it was a little girl, Emily Mackey, who was the first to invite McCorvey to come to church with her.

Benham baptized McCorvey in August 1995. He admitted in the documentary Reversing Roe that at one point during her book signing for “I am Roe,” he told McCorvey that her lie about being raped in order to try to secure an abortion had “ushered in the wholesale slaughter of over 35 million little baby boys and girls. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Benham said he knew that it was not the right thing to say and promised himself that the next chance he had to speak with McCorvey, he would apologize. When he did apologize, it had an impact on McCorvey. She said, “And that won my heart… I went back into the mill and… into my office… and I cried.” McCorvey was an evangelical for three years before she converted to Catholicism under the spiritual direction of Father Edward Robinson and Father Frank Pavone.

In the 2003 sworn affidavit for her attempt to have Roe v. Wade overturned, McCorvey wrote, “My personal experience with this three-decade abortion-experiment has compelled me to come forward, not only for myself and the women I represented then, but for those women whom I now represent. It is my participation in this case that began the tragedy, and it is with great hope that I now seek to end the tragedy I began.” She detailed how young attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee used her to move legal abortion forward and dumped her when all was said and done.

According to her own words, and to those closest to her, McCorvey was truly pro-life and proved it in her 22 years of dedication to ending abortion. “Norma lived to reverse Roe v. Wade,” said attorney Allan Parker. “When I first met her, she said, ‘This is what I live for. I want to do anything I can.’ And every year on the anniversary of Roe she went through torment and grief again thinking that another million children had been killed.”

According to her friends, McCorvey often thought about the children who had been killed by legal abortion in the years following Roe v. Wade. Bryan Kemper—founder of Stand True International and Youth Outreach Director for Priests for Life, who became good friends with McCorvey shortly after her conversion in 1995, recalled for Live Action News a conversation he had with her outside a church in Fredricksburg, Virginia, in the 1990s. From that conversation came what would become her poem, “Empty Playgrounds.”

“She was telling me about how every time she would sit across from a playground, she would just be heartbroken if it was empty because she felt responsible,” Kemper said, noting that McCorvey would think of the children who weren’t there playing because they had been killed by abortion. Kemper reminded her that she was forgiven—”washed white as snow”—by God. “It was a joy to see the look on her face with that,” he explained. “Now that she had changed her life and converted and come to the Lord, all of those children were going to celebrate her and her courage.”

McCorvey decided to move back to Dallas after years away when a dear friend of hers, Father Edward Robinson, died. Karen Garnett told Live Action News, “When she came back to Dallas, she was living in the home of a saintly pro-life woman who took her in and was giving her loving hospitality. And she was not well. She was in and out of the hospital with failing health. She had absolutely no wealth at all. It was the pro-life community who she was with. We loved her. She went to Mass with us. We celebrated her birthday. Never was there any indication that she was acting.” 

According to Karen Garnett, even as McCorvey was dying, she was still thinking of the children. She and McCorvey were so close that when Garnett was giving birth to her fifth child, McCorvey prayed the rosary outside her hospital room and was one of the first people to hold him. And Garnett was there at McCorvey’s side in her final days.

She told Live Action News that at first, McCorvey was scared to die, but as death loomed closer, she found peace. “At one point she seemed agitated and she said, ‘Where are the babies? Where are the babies?’ She would kind of come in and out,” explained Garnett. “I was praying at her bedside and by the time she was in hospice she was becoming much more peaceful and she said, ‘Jesus is coming for me.’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah? Did he tell you?’ and she nodded.”

Garnett said her final day with McCorvey before she had to return home was “very holy.” As Garnett was preparing to leave, McCorvey sat up in her bed. “I could tell that she was looking at something that I couldn’t see,” she explained. “She said, ‘Look at the babies. Do you see the babies?’ And she reached her arms out as if she were embracing someone. I couldn’t see anything. She was so peaceful.”

Two days later, as her family played prayer music Garnett had sent for her, McCorvey passed away and McCorvey’s daughter asked Garnett to speak at the funeral. Garnett also helped to organize the pro-life movement to help cover the cost of the funeral.

“We loved her,” said Garnett. “She was a complex and fragile person, but we loved her. Never once was there any indication that she wasn’t 100 percent pro-life after her conversion.”

In her final weeks of life, it was McCorvey’s pro-life friends sitting with her, caring for her, praying with her, and helping her family to pay for a funeral.

Abortion proponents used Norma McCorvey for years to further their cause before she joined the pro-life movement, and it appears that the filmmakers of “AKA Jane Roe” may be doing the same, waiting to release the documentary until McCorvey had been dead for three years and cannot defend herself, dispute the film’s claims, or clarify her edited statements. Surely it’s no coincidence that McCorvey’s sworn affidavit is currently part of a current Supreme Court case regarding a Lousiana abortion law.

Abortion advocates appear to be using McCorvey to push their agenda one more, heartbreaking time.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Carole Novielli for much of the research that went into this article. This article is based on the trailer and other media reviews of “AKA Jane Roe,” which had not yet been released to the public at the time of publication.

Editor’s Note 5/20/20: Some minor changes were made for accuracy. 

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