Who Was Norma McCorvey of Roe v. Wade? 9 Things We Learned From FX’s AKA Jane Roe

Norma McCorvey, AKA Jane Roe, rose to fame in the 1970s as the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 that ruled women had a constitutional right to abortion — within limits. The ruling effectively did away with state bans on abortion, and created new federal guidelines for assessing restrictions on abortion going forward. Some 40-odd years later, anti-abortion groups and government representatives are hard at work trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, a movement buoyed by McCorvey herself experiencing a change of heart and joining their side in the 1990s, vocally opposing the same abortion rights her case had helped secure. But FX’s new documentary AKA Jane Roe has revealed a shocking secret: McCorvey never had a change of heart at all, and was paid by anti-abortion groups to lie and help their cause. This revelation is the first of many untold details in McCorvey’s life, and has led those who followed the case closely to wonder: What do we really know about Norma McCorvey?

McCorvey didn’t set out to be a political figure. She was a 27-year-old woman with a third unwanted pregnancy when Roe v. Wade went to court, struggling to make ends meet and unable to afford travel outside Texas to a state where abortion was legal. As her fame grew, McCorvey became whoever people wanted her to be: first, a fearless protector of abortion rights; then, a symbol of pro-life activism. As states have implemented new policies with mandated waiting periods or ultrasounds, or restrictions that make abortion clinics nearly impossible to keep open, the pro-life groups pushing for this legislature have continued to point to McCorvey as proof that their stance is the right one — until now.

McCorvey herself, this documentary makes clear, was neither who pro-abortion groups nor who anti-abortion groups wanted her to be. So, who was the woman who’s played such a big role in our national imagination? Here’s what you should know about the woman behind Jane Roe.

AKA Jane Roe premieres on FX on May 22 at 9 p.m. ET.