FROM THE SPECTACLE MONOPOLIZED ARCHIVES – An Exchange with Roe v. Wade Attorney Sarah Weddington

I was wondering what your response is to the fact that your former client, formerly known as Roe, really switched her position on the issue of abortion. I was just really curious about your retrospective.

Norma McCorvey, who has made her own name public or I wouldn’t, was Jane Roe. As I said, it was not a case about her. It was for all women who were or might become pregnant and want the option of abortion, but she was certainly the person whose situation – one page affadavit –[fellow counselor Linda Coffee and I] addressed to the court.

When I met her, she said she was very pro-choice. She thought it ought to be her decision. She had already had one child, whom her mother had taken away from her on the basis that she was not fit to raise a child. She had never finished high school. She’d been in state reformatory school. She had had trouble with alcohol. She had had trouble with drugs. Again, all of this in her book, or I wouldn’t say it.

So I think she was saying that she was pregnant; she didn’t want to be; she couldn’t support herself; she certainly couldn’t support a child; she did not want to go through the pregnancy. And I believed her. I still believe her. Now, she was pro-choice and very involved in giving speeches in favor of Roe v Wade until about 1975 [1995]. So for about 25 years, at least, she was still very pro-choice.

In about 1975 [again, actually 1995] – and you can check it and find the exact date I’m sure in media, a man named Flip Benham, who was head of one of the anti-choice groups, visited with her, and eventually she decided to work with him anti-abortion. So there was a backyard swimming pool baptism, I’m told paid for by – I think it was People Magazine. And since then she has said that she was opposed to abortion, so she worked for a while with Flip Benham, had a falling out, worked with the man who’s in charge of Priests For Life [Fr. Frank Pavone]. Evidently, they had a falling out.

Her first book was I Am Roe, which was about why she supported Roe v Wade. Her second book was No More Roe, which was why she was against it. The movie she sold her story for was called Roe v Wade, and it was why she was so proud to have been involved in Roe v Wade. It won an Academy Award as a sort of documentary category. Amy Madigan played me. I wasn’t really in favor of the movie. But they finally explained that they could make it whether I said Yes or No. I finally signed away the rights, but only as “the attorney in Roe v Wade” and nothing else.

I’ve never made any comments about Norma McCorvey because I’m never quite sure what the truth is. She certainly had the right to change her mind. She certainly has the right to have whatever opinion she wants to have in time. I’m just glad that we won Roe v Wade, and that, for many women, it is their decision. It is not my decision for them. It’s not her decision for them. It is their decision for themselves. And that is what Roe v Wade represents to me.

I remember in Roe v Wade, in my reading of it, there was an interpretation by many people that if personhood per se was ever established for a fetus, it could serve as a threat to decision made in [Roe v Wade]. And I was curious if you thought there would be a way to maintain the barriers for women’s rights that stand right now over whether or not to bear a child out to nine months, whether that could still be done if personhood was established per se?

[Personhood] is certainly part of [that decision] because the Constitution says that all persons born or naturalized are citizens. And so that’s certainly been a very key part of it: “all persons born or naturalized” are citizens.

What do you think of [Judith Jarvis Thomson’s] violinist argument? You know, where you got the violinist hooked up to you?

Certainly what she was trying to say is, nobody has the right to control the body of somebody else, even if it was a famous violinist.

Actually, No More Roe was McCorvey’s ministry, not a book. Weddington was referring to the 1998 book Won By Love. The film Roe v Wade collected an Emmy for Outstanding Drama/Comedy Special, an Emmy for Holly Hunter, and a Golden Globe for Amy Madigan’s performance. The film never won an Oscar. McCorvey’s personal history is now a footnote to the case’s decision, both wildly celebrated as a victory for women’s rights and hated.