Directed by Nick Sweeney. Norma McCorvey helped make history as Jane Roe in the ground breaking legal case Roe v Wade which legalized abortion. This documentary reveals her story. Running time 1 hour 19 minutes.
Norma McCorvey was born very poor to alcoholic parents. Her father left when she was very young and her mother didn’t really want her. Her mother abused her so at age 10-11, Norma ran away to Oklahoma City with a friend. They managed to steal some money from a gas station and got a hotel room. The maid found the girls and turned them in. Norma was sent to an all-girls reform school and at first was scared but then came to appreciate having so many friends.
At age 15, Norma was sent to live with a distant family member who sexually abused her causing her to retreat into a world of drinking and drugs. She married at 16 to a man of 22 who later hit her when he found out she was pregnant with her daughter Missy. Norma’s mother and step father ended up taking care of Norma’s daughter and eventually had her parental rights removed due to Norma being gay.
In 1969, abortion was banned in the United States and women were dying from illegal abortions done in dirty, dangerous, back room abortion rooms. Norma was pregnant again, still drinking and doing drugs, and she wanted an abortion. Her doctor refused and after visiting a back room abortion room, she found her self in an adoption attorney’s office. He told her about two female attorney’s who were looking for someone just like her to help them with their case to get the abortion ban overturned. She agreed to meet to them.
Norma met Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, told them her story of being poor, drinking/drugs, and an unwed mother without a choice, and quickly became the poster girl for the pro-choice movement as Jane Roe of Roe v Wade. Norma has her baby and gives it up for adoption.
In 1970, Norma–still poor and desperate–tries stealing from the store owned by Connie Gonzalez, who sees something in Norma and decides to giver her a chance. They would become best friends, lovers, and partners for more than 25 years.
In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States decided it was legal to get an abortion within the first three months of pregnancy. While the decision was a major victory for the pro-choice movement across the United States, it was a devastating blow to the pro-life movement. Pro-life groups across the United States believe abortion is murder and decide to fight it with murder by bombing abortion clinics and use terrorist tactics to scare women away from the clinics.
Pro-life group Operation Rescue, led by Flip Benham –an out-spoken, evangelical reverend who will do whatever it takes to change women’s minds about abortions–and Rob Schenck, another evangelical reverend–who upon reflection is a lot more honest about what happened and their part in the movement.
With all the chaos happening, Norma decides to reveal herself as Jane Roe and be a vocal supporter of the pro-choice movement and local clinic. She goes on television interviews and begins to tell her story which includes a detail no one knew before. She originally told her doctor she was raped as the reason she wanted the abortion which wasn’t true. The bombshell of all bombshells sets off a storm of panic throughout the pro-choice community as they think this may cause Roe v Wade to be reversed. The pro-life community takes it as an opportunity to dig deeper into the chaos.
Feminist attorney Gloria Allred takes Norma under her wing and all dozens of press interviews to solidify Norma’s life and story among the pro-choice movement. A movie is made based on Norma and the Roe v Wade case with Holly Hunter playing Norma. Norma finally has the spotlight like the little girl inside has always dreamed of.
Until…Operation Rescue moves in next door to the clinic–A Choice for Women– where Norma works as an abortion counselor. Norma and Flip have their verbal go ’rounds until one day, Flip takes her aside and tells Norma his testimony. Norma sees Flip differently as someone she can relate to and Flip sees Norma as a lost soul looking for forgiveness and acceptance. With this knowledge, he helps Norma to covert to pro-life and baptizes her while Connie looks on in sadness.
The pro-choice movement is shook to the core as this is just another bombshell which could under mind everything they have worked for. Norma claims she finally felt loved, forgiven, and accepted for the first time in her life. Those who know her, say she’s has betrayed them and they’re fearful again of what she might say.
With Norma’s change to pro-life and being a born again Christian, her relationship with Connie must change as well. Even though they break up as a couple, they remain as best friends and roommates for another ten years. The pain and hurt on Connie’s face is unmistakable.
Many years later, Connie passes away, and Norma decides to make her ‘deathbed confession’. According to Norma, Operation Rescue and those involved, began paying her and telling her what to say and she did it. This final bombshell caused both sides to feel betrayed by Norma. The pro-choice community feels that Norma’s desperation for love and attention has driven her to rise up every now and then to get more attention. They are devastated for the abortion issue to be tossed around back and forth and wonder what this will mean for the pro-choice movement.
While Flip denies Norma being paid, Rob acknowledges the way they approached Norma was unethical. They took advantage of her neediness and weaknesses. They coached her on what to say and used the foundation’s money to pay her so she wouldn’t “spill the beans”. Rob continues alluding to a change of heart with what the pro-life movement did to further their agenda as well as how chaotic and devastating it would be to women if Roe v Wade was reversed during the Trump administration.
Norma’s final moments are spent with her daughter Missy and two granddaughters. Norma believes the choice to ask and receive an abortion saves women’s lives and wants this to be her final legacy. Flip officiates Norma’s funeral and takes the last opportunity to say the opposite about Norma.
What I Liked
It was intriguing to hear more about Norma McCorvey and her life. It was sad in many ways because while she was the perfect poster girl for the pro-choice movement, she was also the most fragile woman stuck in the middle of two very powerful and dynamic groups.
Roe v Wade was a ground breaking law in 1973; however, the battle continues to this day. Regardless of the position a person takes, many people died in the name of pro-life and pro-choice during this time period shown in the documentary.
I liked that no one was safe in this documentary. Those involved with Norma and the movement were unapologetic in their involvement; except for Rob, and openly showed their true agenda in being around Norma. The pro-choice movement were grateful to her but did not trust her at all to say or do what they thought helped their agenda. The pro-life movement took advantage of Norma’s weaknesses and exploited them to their benefit. Gloria Allred gained more recognition propping Norma up around the news outlets. Poor Connie, the only one who truly cared and loved Norma, was left behind in the chaos.
What I Wished Was Better
I wished the documentary was edited a bit more chronologically as it was a bit hard to follow at times. I get it was supposed to be from Norma’s perspective with her final confession and history and reactions from those who knew her and went through everything; however, it bounced around a bit too much with certain parts of the timeline.
Norma is only one woman and yet is held as the standard by which all women should fall under. While some admire her for the courage to be the poster woman for the cause, others hold her responsible for the murders of all the aborted babies. The two female attorney’s knew they needed a sad vision of a desperate woman to make their case for Roe v Wade. For someone like Norma who’s only dream in life was to be wanted, love, and a famous actress, she got her wish but not the way she imagined. People were more than cruel to her with their deception of love and admiration.
Like many civil and human rights issues, the true nature of the cause cannot be distilled down to one woman, one man, or one child as human rights are for every woman, every man, and every child. I understand people disagree what those rights should be and how they should be expressed; however, neither side can reach their goal without making some sort of attempt to understand the other point of view and coming to some sort of middle.
While abortion is not and has not been the path for me, I cannot make that decision for someone else nor can I judge those who have had to walk that path. That being said, I do believe abortion is not right after a certain period of development in a pregnancy. You’ll have to google it yourself for more info, but there are people writing laws for late term abortions which I believe to be unethical in any situation. I am amazed by the strength and resilience in people on a regular basis and I know there are women who go through horrific things which is why it isn’t my place to say what another woman does.
As usual, there are too many sides to the story for it to be portrayed or argued without the gray areas.
A documentary to further the controversy surrounding abortion and the right to choose. While the film informs about the history and key person, Norma McCorvey aka Jane Roe, it doesn’t give either side any peace. Available on Hulu. Watch the trailer below: