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On Roe v. Wade Anniversary, Whatever Happened to Jane Roe?

In 1969, a pregnant 21-year-old woman, named Norma McCorvey, using the infamous pseudonym “Jane Roe,” was part of the Supreme Court case that would have forced the state of Texas to allow her to get an abortion. When Jane Roe was interviewed by the New York Times in 1994, she continued to be a pro-choice advocate who had worked in clinics and whose partner of several decades was Connie Gonzalez, an “immigrant worker,” and, obviously, a woman.

But Jane Roe has changed. Not two years after that New York Times interview (which followed the publication of her first book), McCorvey announced her conversion to Christianity, saying that her relationship with Gonzalez had actually been platonic for several years, and that she was no longer pro-choice. In a recent profile, Vanity Fair writes that McCorvey effectively converted religions twice in four years. She made money from the advocacy organizations she started that professed both pro-choice and pro-life views. And eventually, she left Gonzalez, who, in Vanity Fair, called her a “phony.” More recently, McCorvey has appeared in an ad for anti-Obama presidential candidate and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry. She also made her acting debut with a cameo in the pro-life independent film Doonby, described by Reuters as a “psychological thriller” (and watch out for that trailer — it has an actual written grammatical error). Doonby premiered at Cannes in 2011 and has since been given a glowing review by the Vatican’s “semi-official newspaper.”

So what happened to Jane Roe?

The Vanity Fair profile, along with her books and other interviews, paint a picture of McCorvey as a conflicted individual who was treated poorly by pretty much everyone she met. Disowned by her mother for being attracted to women and abused by the husband who fathered her daughter Melissa, McCorvey may have been misled by Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, the two lawyers who drove Roe v. Wade to its landmark conclusion at the Supreme Court. The two needed a plaintiff, and McCorvey, who only had a ninth grade education, believed that she might be the first woman in Texas to have a legal abortion, despite the fact that she was already five months pregnant and the case decision would probably take far longer. McCorvey was personally attacked by pro-life individuals and organizations, who claimed that McCorvey’s lie about the origin of her pregnancy — that she was raped — was what drove the case, saying that “as a result of McCorvey’s lie, more than 20 million babies have been aborted.” Trying to get money in 1988, she worked with an advertising executive to produce signed copies of the Roe decision; the executive told Vanity Fair that “I think it’s accurate to say that [we] were manipulating Norma ... [and] Norma was manipulating us.”

Vanity Fair’s Joshua Prager says that “McCorvey has long been less pro-choice or pro-life than pro-Norma.” It’s hard to debate the assertion, but it’s also hard to hold it against her. McCorvey has been used as a pawn by both pro-choice and pro-life advocates, all of whom now reject her for not being soundly on their side. That she tried to charge Prager $1,000 for speaking to her (they did not speak for the profile) suggests that McCorvey is still trying to live off of being Jane Roe, but her apparent frustration while speaking to Doonby actor Erin Way — “she feels ... like she doesn’t have a side that she can belong to,” — suggests that she is only doing so because she doesn’t know how else to make a living; in 2005, McCorvey actually plead with the public for money for food.

Jane Roe simply wanted the choice that most American women currently take for granted. Regardless, it is quite obvious that the woman pro-choice advocates praise and pro-life advocates demonize no longer exists. Jane Roe was another person in another time, and the woman left behind is still struggling to discover an identity she can accept and for which can be accepted by those around her.

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