“AKA Jane Roe” is a new film by FX purporting to tell the “true story” of the late Norma McCorvey (the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade) and, by implication, the “true story” of the pro-life movement.
Its producers tell this story through a series of interviews of Ms. McCorvey and others. All others interviewed outspokenly oppose the overturn of Roe v. Wade, with the exception of the Christian pastor Flip Benham. Benham baptized McCorvey as an adult in 1996, brought her into pro-life activism, and is still himself active in the pro-life movement.
The film, largely (though not only) through the unsympathetic portrayal of Rev. Benham, paints a very sinister picture of pro-lifers—as fundamentalist, violent, aggressive, and opportunistic. Ingraining this picture in the minds of its viewers is the film’s true purpose. The final blow comes at the end, where Norma seems to have recanted her pro-life views—views we are meant to believe she never had, and that she spoke for more than 20 years only for money and attention.
AKA Jane Roe was understandably a shock to many people. Norma was, in her own words, “the big fish” for the pro-life cause in the United States. If she didn’t truly believe, it seemed as if a support had been kicked out unexpectedly from underneath it.
There are at least three reasons we should not be so troubled.
First, we know that the film’s subtle narrative about the true nature of the pro-life movement is a lie. Every movement, unfortunately, has its bad actors, and they are inevitably held up as a caricature. We know the true nature of the pro-life cause and the beautiful witness of those who work on behalf of vulnerable women and the unborn. All we can do is speak the truth, live it by example, and persevere.
Second, many who knew her best or spoke with her toward the end of her life dispute the film’s portrayal of Norma, who was a complicated and wounded person. Father Frank Pavone, who received her into the Catholic Church in 1998, and Abby Johnson, whom Norma called on the phone just days before her death, are adamant that Norma’s conversion and pro-life convictions were real.
Also real, they say, were the recurring feelings of terrible guilt and hope for redemption she shared with those she trusted.
Finally, the truth, goodness, justice, and beauty of the pro-life cause are not dependent on any “big fish” other than Jesus Christ Himself. He is our hope—and Norma’s, too.
We may never know what Norma McCorvey truly believed about abortion in her last days. Whatever her feelings were, we certainly hope for her salvation and final release from the terrible burden she carried. We do know that all human lives—yours, mine, Norma’s, those of the unborn and of every man and woman—are created by God. Each is loved by Him, and each has a divine purpose and destiny. Fighting for justice on behalf of human life and dignity is never in vain. This is why the setbacks we suffer are never truly crippling—God, and no other, is the reason for our hope and the champion of every good cause. He works through us, all imperfect instruments, and despite our failings He never fails.