Documentary film “AKA Jane Roe” listens to a woman who was at the center of a women’s issue which is still very sensitive in the American society even at present. Through her and several people associated with in one way or another, the documentary gives us a glimpse into the social controversies surrounding the issue during last five decades, and you may find yourself shaking your head at times especially if you have a moderate view on the issue just like me.
The woman in question is Norma McCorvey, whose alias sounds quite familiar to you if you have some interest in women’s rights. As ‘Jane Roe’, she was the plaintiff of the Roe v. Wade in 1973, and her legal victory at that time promptly led to the nullification of many US state and federal abortion laws which strictly restricted abortion, but it was followed by the backlash movement driven by numerous conservative people, many of whom are still actively trying to overturn the US Supreme Court decision on the case.
While going through her last several months in 2016, McCorvey was approached by director/producer Nick Sweeney, and she was willing to tell everything in front of the camera. Although her health is becoming fragile day by day, she often shows her spirit with some understandable bitterness, and the documentary simply listens to her as occasionally providing some counterpoint views from its other interviewees.
At first, McCorvey tells us a bit about her poor and unhappy childhood. After her father left his family due to his wife’s alcoholism, young McCorvey often had hard and difficult times as her mother’s drinking problem got worse and worse, and then she came to commit a serious act of rebellion when she was only 11. Along with her best friend, she ran away from her home, and then she and her best friend managed to stay in some cheap hotel, where she came to be more aware of her homosexuality.
After subsequently getting arrested by the police, young McCorvey was sent to a reform school for girls, but, to her surprise, several years at that reform school turned out to be better than she imagined. When her time at that reform school was over, she was promptly sent to one of her distant cousins, and McCorvey confides to us a bit on the sexual abuse inflicted on her during that time.
What followed next in McCorvey’s life was messy to say the least. She married some guy in 1963 although she was only 16 at that time, but that was quickly terminated when he refused to recognize that she got pregnant with his child. 6 years later, she got pregnant third times, and she tried to get abortion because she decided that she could not afford to raise another child as having struggled a lot to earn her living in Texas, but abortion was strictly restricted in Texas at that time. While quite frustrated with many legal restrictions blocking her, she happened to be introduced to two young female civil rights lawyers, and that was the starting point which ultimately led to the Roe v. Wade four years later.
Although she did not get abortion during that 4-year legal battle, McCorvey felt proud of opening the door for millions of women out there, and she was also eager to step forward as the symbol of the pro-choice movement when abortion became a more sensitive and controversial issue than before during 1980-90s, but she was not that welcomed much by those pre-choice groups. While she certainly drew considerable attention when she revealed herself in public, she was regarded as a rather unreliable figure especially after she confessed that she lied for getting abortion at that time, and she was also harassed by those pro-life activists while trying to work at an abortion clinic in Texas.
Mainly through two Christian pastors, the documentary shows and tells us how the pro-life movement around that time went too far at times. Many abortion clinics constantly had to deal with angry pro-life protesters outside, and some of them were actually destroyed by those loony extremists. Believe or not, a pro-choice Christian pastor actually showed a dead fetus in front of a TV camera during one demonstration, and that was certainly grotesque to say the least.
One of these two pastors actively approached to McCorvey, and what happened next in 1995 shocked both sides. McCorvey became a born-again Christian under that pastor’s guidance, and then she said in public that she changed her stance on the Roe v. Wade. While many pro-choice activists felt betrayed by her, their opponents were surely delighted to embrace and then present her as a repentant sinner, and she willingly went along with that, though she had to give up her long relationship with a woman named Connie Gonzales.
The documentary pays some attention to the personal motive behind her sudden reversal. As admitted by these two pastors, McCorvey was a vulnerable and gullible person craving for more affection and attention, and they surely knew how to push buttons in her for drawing her to their side. In addition, as phlegmatically revealed by McCorvey and recognized by one of these two pastors, she often got paid for saying whatever they wanted her to say in public, and now she regrets about that.
Because McCorvey’s confession was already exposed in public, “AKA Jane Roe” will probably not surprise you as much as intended, but it is still a fairly engaging documentary on the whole, and you may come to feel a bit sorry for her. Sure, she was unwise and messy in many aspects, but, at least, she delivered her last words on her terms, didn’t she?