The McCorvey Purchase
May 20, 2020 6:37 AM   Subscribe

In the 90s, anti-choice activists presented what they thought was a coup in their favor - that Norma McCorvey, the titular "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, had come over to the anti-choice side and "repented" her role in the legalization of abortion in the US. But in a new documentary on the fight over abortion, video of McCorvey on her deathbed has her making a stunning revelation - her conversion was false, paid for by anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue. (SLLA Times)
posted by NoxAeternum (34 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
As always, the opposite of free speech is paid speech. She was bought and paid for, and the damage is far-ranging and tremendous.

I always believed that Operation Rescue was absolutely disingenuous and corrupt; while having this as a proof is fine for me, a lot of pro-birthers probably will figure that "they got to her before she died!" without actually specifying which 'they' is being mentioned.
posted by mephron at 7:06 AM on May 20 [12 favorites]


This is a pretty ugly story on the McCorvey side, so I am concentrating my thoughts on the fact that the Pro-Lifers needed to buy their committed spokespeople.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:08 AM on May 20 [18 favorites]


This link is paywalled, and I am unable to read the article.
posted by 4th number at 7:15 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]




The Daily Beast has a similar article. It's such a sad story, everything I've read about McCorvey just fills me with grief.
posted by Nelson at 7:21 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Well, that’s interesting. The narrative that I’d heard before was that the anti-choice people had recruited her simply by being nice to her and treating her like a person instead of a test case.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:27 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


Boing Boing has an article on this too. It's one instance where I found the comments surprisingly insightful.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:43 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


The narrative that I’d heard before was that the anti-choice people had recruited her simply by being nice to her and treating her like a person instead of a test case.

That itself was the narrative pushed by the anti-choice folks. They basically inverted the truth and pretended like she'd only gone with the pro-choice folks because she was in desperate need.

I really push back against the notion that anyone owes these folks anything (beyond general decency). The whole point of these cases is that it's about constitutional rights, and NOT the opinion of one person. Sodomy being legal shouldn't hinge on what Lawrence wants. Miscegenation shouldn't be considered wrong if the Lovings were to have gotten divorced.

Whether or not McCorvey had regretted her abortion, the case was about her (and every other American's) constitutional right to have one.

I can't imagine WANTING to live as "that X case/law guy" for the remainder of my life.
posted by explosion at 8:06 AM on May 20 [44 favorites]


The narrative that I’d heard before was that the anti-choice people had recruited her simply by being nice to her and treating her like a person instead of a test case.

That’s the story McCorvey was selling and as a story it has wide appeal. Conservatives buy it because they want to imagine they’re good people whose goodness will eventually convert everyone else into compliance with their regressive social agenda and liberals buy it because liberals are thirsty for something new they can tut and feel guilty about.

Operation Rescue didn’t recruit McCorvey with good vibes because she couldn’t be bought with good vibes. They recruited her with what she actually wanted: money.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:08 AM on May 20 [20 favorites]


That’s the story McCorvey was selling and as a story it has wide appeal. Conservatives buy it because they want to imagine they’re good people whose goodness will eventually convert everyone else into compliance with their regressive social agenda and liberals buy it because liberals are thirsty for something new they can tut and feel guilty about.

Operation Rescue didn’t recruit McCorvey with good vibes because she couldn’t be bought with good vibes. They recruited her with what she actually wanted: money.


Except that there is some truth in the story, and while yes, Operation Rescue bought her support, part of why they were able to was because of the cold shoulder McCorvey got from the pro-choice community.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:26 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Operation Rescue: thou shalt not lie.
posted by lathrop at 8:38 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


This is what conservatives mean when they invoke the idea of “democracy”: established hierarchies of power prevailing, by whatever means the Lord and/or Invisible Hand chooses.
posted by acb at 8:46 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I really push back against the notion that anyone owes these folks anything (beyond general decency). The whole point of these cases is that it's about constitutional rights, and NOT the opinion of one person. Sodomy being legal shouldn't hinge on what Lawrence wants. Miscegenation shouldn't be considered wrong if the Lovings were to have gotten divorced.

Exactly. The whole point of turning McCorvey was to say "hey, look, women don't know what they want when they want an abortion so we have to take away their agency".

This is what conservatives mean when they invoke the idea of “democracy”: established hierarchies of power prevailing, by whatever means the Lord and/or Invisible Hand chooses.

This. All citizens created equal needs to be the position of the government so that the hierarchy can reveal and entrench itself. How citizens treat each other? Well the government can't help in that because we're all equal and deserve the same treatment from the government, right? The rich and the poor alike are forbidden from sleeping under a bridge.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:59 AM on May 20 [9 favorites]


Does anyone know how much money (probably in church donations) she was paid for this?
posted by Selena777 at 9:09 AM on May 20


According to the Daily Beast article, $456,911. Someone in the BoingBoing comments section calculates this as around $19k a year (I've not done the maths as I'm not sure of the timeline of her involvement)
posted by Gin and Broadband at 9:12 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


> Boing Boing has an article on this too. It's one instance where I found the comments surprisingly insightful.

I hadn't been to Boing Boing in a hot while and man, its changed. Not [AD] for [AD] the [AD] [AD] [AD] better. I see they appear to be up to their regular inhouse drama as well :/
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:18 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


I'm not at the point yet where I can coherently talk about this situation, but I did want to note that McCorvey didn't actually get the abortion she had been seeking. She gave birth and the baby was adopted. Whatever her motives, it wasn't post-abortion regret.
posted by Ruki at 10:28 AM on May 20 [23 favorites]


The most effective pro-life stance to prevent unwanted pregnancies would be easy access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. The fact that most pro-life organizations oppose both of these shows me it's not about life but religious control.
posted by ShakeyJake at 11:46 AM on May 20 [24 favorites]


I saw this story yesterday. I feel bad for McCorvey. It's an impossible job to be an iconic representation of some fissure in social norms so I can't say she did the job poorly. I hope saying this did what she wanted it to for her.

Also real bummer this is in the entertainment section.
posted by PMdixon at 12:44 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


I see they appear to be up to their regular inhouse drama as well :/

Cory Doctorow left a month or two ago; apparently on good terms. No idea what happened, though perhaps his red-diaper-baby radicalism was an increasingly ill fit against the hucksterism of Boing Boing's Shop breathlessly spruiking its off-brand crapgadgets and shovelware, and eventually push came to shove?
posted by acb at 1:08 PM on May 20


Yeah, because if there's one thing anti-choice people are known for it's being nice to people.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:57 PM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Yeah, because if there's one thing anti-choice people are known for it's being nice to people.

Strategically being selectively nice to people is the well-known tactic of love-bombing. If someone's in a vulnerable place, it could tilt them into allying themselves with a cause they would otherwise not given a second thought to. (Case in point: how a certain TV comedy writer went from being more or less apolitical to ranting about “gender ideology” to the point of being no-platformed pretty much everywhere, after someone called out an insensitive character he wrote and some TERFs rallied behind his bruised ego.)
posted by acb at 2:59 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


(Case in point: how a certain TV comedy writer went from being more or less apolitical to ranting about “gender ideology” to the point of being no-platformed pretty much everywhere, after someone called out an insensitive character he wrote and some TERFs rallied behind his bruised ego.)

Graham Linehan?
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 3:24 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


The Daily Beast also has a (paywalled) interview with Nick Sweeney, the film's director.

Does anyone know how much money (probably in church donations) she was paid for this?

According to the Daily Beast article, $456,911.

And from that interview, the $456,911 was what they could prove.

To quote:
How did you uncover evidence that these anti-abortion organizations had paid off Norma to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Norma started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that absorbed all the various different “fees” she received throughout that era. Rob Schenck uses the term “benevolent gifts,” and there were various different ways that she was receiving money—things like book deals, “benevolent gifts,” or speaking fees. It was a very elaborate and creative way that this was all done. [. . .]

And you manage to track down receipts for $456,911 in “benevolent gifts” to Norma, but like Rob says, that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg since she was receiving so many different forms of payment from anti-abortion groups.

That’s what he’s suggesting—that there were so many different groups that were writing checks to Norma that there’s no way of even knowing just how much it was.
(Rob Schenck being an evangelical minister who was one of the movers and shakers in Operation Rescue & other anti-abortion groups from the late 80's through 2010 or so.)
posted by soundguy99 at 3:34 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


part of why they were able to was because of the cold shoulder McCorvey got from the pro-choice community.

But is that true? Did she get the cold shoulder? From whom? According to whom? Show me the receipts! I want to see a paper trail before believing anyone involved with this sordid story.
posted by bq at 4:57 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


She was queer and homeless and was abused both by her own mother and her husband who raped her- her first child was stolen from her and given up for adoption against her will by said abusive mother, and the child she wanted to abort- and didn't in the end was her third. Mid-century feminism had and has a HUGE "respectability" criteria for who deserves help and who deserves what they got. She was useful to get the case heard and then discarded. I don't need the receipts- I believe it.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:03 PM on May 20 [11 favorites]


It's discussed in the LA Times piece:
“AKA Jane Roe” also shows how McCorvey was held at arm’s length by abortion rights proponents. After a decade of anonymity, McCorvey went public in the 1980s and began granting interviews, and was depicted in the Emmy-winning TV movie, “Roe vs. Wade,” starring Holly Hunter. But to the leaders of the abortion rights movement, the inconsistencies in her story — for a time McCorvey claimed she had gotten pregnant as the result of a rape, then said she had been lying — and lack of polish made her a less-than-ideal poster girl for the cause.
Beyond that, why is it so hard to believe that the pro-choice movement took a dim view of McCorvey for a number of reasons both defensible and less so? Just because we feel we're fighting for what's right doesn't mean that we don't fuck up.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:06 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


It’s totally believable. But it’s also very plausible that her being snubbed by cruel activists was part of a scripted storyline. Until I hear from some primary sources I don’t think I’ll be believing any unsourced magazine quotes.
posted by bq at 5:23 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


For a similar look at the actual human beings, as well as the legal and political issues behind a key Supreme Court case, I highly recommend Flagrant Conduct about the Lawrence v Texas sodomy case.

Not only were Lawrence and Garner not having sex when they were arrested, but they weren't in a relationship and never had sex.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:20 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Well, as a non profit worker, I am obviously not going to say that advocates shouldn't be paid. Go NPEU. A lot of us do investigative work the journalists used to do, before they were all fired. Public speaking is writing, is work. Organizing is work. Policy research is work. Listening to discourses in county level polities and communicating policy values in a manner that respects that discourse is work.

I would have to say that the most relevant bit here is less that she was paid, and more that she lied. She could not have written the words that came from her mouth.

“It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”

well, Norma, you weren't exactly AFTRA tho, were you?
posted by eustatic at 5:05 AM on May 21


well, Norma, you weren't exactly AFTRA tho, were you?

At $19K a year she basically got scale.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:32 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Really interesting interview with Robert Schenck, one of the pastors who used McCorvey to advocate against abortion, on CBC's As It Happens last night.
posted by sneebler at 8:39 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


from the interview:

I look back now and realize that her entire conscious life was a bid for survival.

From her very young days suffering terrible abuse; through her teenage years when she was raped and sexually assaulted repeatedly through a very violent, tumultuous marriage; through the years of the beginnings of Roe vs. Wade; and then through her experience with the pro-choice movement, then the pro-life movement. These were all bids for personal survival.

And so at the end, she gets to tell us that, basically, in her own words. And when she was being used, and it's hard for me to say, but I certainly perpetrated that. ... She was given a script.

She wasn't able to speak for herself until the very end of her life. Literally.


it's all good, and there's a text version.
posted by philip-random at 9:04 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


less-than-ideal poster girl for the cause.

To me, it makes a difference whether she was looking to the left wing for an income from public speaking and other gigs, and 'cold shoulder' meant that they didn't employ her, or if she was looking to the left for basic human decency and kindness, and 'cold shoulder' meant that they didn't give it to her.

Mid-century feminism had and has a HUGE "respectability" criteria for who deserves help and who deserves what they got. She was useful to get the case heard and then discarded. I don't need the receipts- I believe it.

But what does discarded mean? Does it mean lifetime employment? I mean, maybe it does, but when I read "treating her like a person instead of a test case", I wasn't thinking, 'not employing her as a spokesperson'.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:59 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


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