Evangelical anti-abortionists ‘cut checks’ and ‘stuffed hundred-dollar bills’ into ‘Jane Roe,’ Norma McCorvey’s hands, even though they knew she did not believe in their message, because her dramatic public ‘conversion’ to their cause turned her into ‘a prize they could not afford to lose.’
This is the startling admission made by Reverend Robert Schenck, 61, who was speaking exclusively to DailyMail.com as a new FX documentary ‘AKA Jane Roe’ is set to air.
McCorvey died of heart failure 2017. She was 69.
As ‘Jane Roe,’ she was 22 when she became the protagonist of Roe v Wade – the case that legalized abortion in America. In later years she shed her anonymity and made a stunning about face to become an outspoken member of the anti-abortion movement.
But shortly before her death she gave a series of interviews to filmmaker Nick Sweeney and claimed that her anti-abortion campaigning was ‘all an act’ paid for by evangelical church leaders.
Now Schenck, a key figure in McCorvey’s story and evangelical leader, has admitted to paying her hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep her on side and told DailyMail.com that he and others ignored signals that ‘she wasn’t with us,’ as long as she ‘said the right things in public.’
Reverend Robert Schenck, 61, tells DailyMail.com that Evangelical anti-abortionists ‘cut checks’ to ‘Jane Roe’ aka Norma McCorvey. Schenck and McCorvey are pictured together in 1996
As ‘Jane Roe,’ McCorvey became the protagonist of Roe v Wade – the case that legalized abortion in America. McCorvey is pictured with attorney Gloria Allred
In later years McCorvey shed her anonymity and became an outspoken member of the anti-abortion movement
The Washington, DC based clergyman said, ‘She represented something so valuable to the movement that we were willing to make all kinds of accommodations for her idiosyncrasies and doubts.
‘I had an organization called Faith and Action and we cut checks to Norma McCorvey, quite a few checks over the years.’
‘I had an organization called Faith and Action and we cut checks to Norma McCorvey, quite a few checks over the years,’ Schenck said
Schenck met McCorvey in January 1996 when he invited her to speak at The National Memoriam for Pre-Borns and Their Mothers and Fathers, an annual event that he had started. She joined him on the stage with 50 other anti-abortion leaders and his then friend and peer, Reverend Flip Benham, who had baptized McCorvey in his backyard swimming pool the previous year.
Schenck explained, ‘Flip moved his organization [the anti-abortion Operation Rescue] to premises next door to the abortion provider where Norma was working as a marketing director. They became kind of acrimonious friends exchanging barbs and then they discovered they were similar people.
‘They were both from sort of tortured backgrounds, victims of child abuse and so they developed a friendship and it became a kind of pastoral relationship for Reverend Benham.’
McCorvey’s gave different accounts of her background over the years – claiming at one point that her pregnancy in the Roe v Wade era was a result of rape and later admitting it was not. But all of her accounts painted a picture of a background marred by poverty, abuse and alcohol addiction.
She found a period of stability with partner Connie Gonzalez but that relationship ended in acrimony after 35 years.
Today Schenck is uncertain how sincere McCorvey’s ‘conversion’ ever was, saying, ‘only God knows the depths of our sincerity.’
But he said that he regretted the fact that he never seen McCorvey for the ‘fragile individual’ that she was, so much as the asset that she represented to his cause. Ultimately she was, ‘a problem to be managed’ with money.
McCorvey died of heart failure in 2017 and gave a ‘deathbed confessional’ interview to filmmakers for new FX documentary ‘AKA Jane Roe’
McCorvey admits in the documentary that she was paid by the church to be against abortion
Schenck said the arrangement lasted more than 10 years and estimates McCorvey was paid more than $450,000
He said, ‘For us it was checks – $500 for speaking engagements stands out, I recall signing two checks for $2500 but never any larger sum than that.
‘There was more than one occasion when she called me to bitterly complain that she felt she was being exploited, used, treated unfairly financially so, you know, I might authorize an additional check of $500 or $1000.’
This arrangement lasted more than ten years according to Schenck who recalled a brief period during which McCorvey was on a monthly stipend of a few hundred dollars. In all, he estimated, that she must have been paid more than $450,000 over the years.
He said, ‘I saw the tax records and that was pretty much the figure, but in those days there were quite a lot of informal financial dealings.
‘We stuffed a lot of cash into peoples’ hands, I mean it could be a lot of hundred-dollar bills and that wasn’t properly reported on.’
In her death-bed confession McCorvey referred to herself as a the ‘Big Fish’ in the eyes of the evangelical leaders who courted her. She said, ‘I took their money and they put me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say.’
She boasted of being, ‘a good actress.’
For his part Schenck said he never felt like he was ‘paying an actor.’
Though he admitted that his relationship with McCorvey was, at times, ‘transactional,’ he denied that it was ever a cynical attempt to exploit her.
He recalled one occasion on which McCorvey had called him, ‘clearly inebriated.’ He said, ‘She drank enthusiastically – I wish at the time I had seen that as a sign of trouble in her life, but I didn’t. We all kind of laughed it off. It was problematic at times but not so much that we couldn’t just do that.
In her death-bed confession McCorvey referred to herself as a the ‘Big Fish’ in the eyes of the evangelical leaders who courted her. She said, ‘I took their money and they put me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say’
‘I saw her as a symbol we couldn’t afford to lose,’ Schenck (left) said of McCorvey’s involvement in the movement, calling her the ‘crown jewels’
‘She called me on this occasion and said, ‘You know you guys are effing with me.’ And she meant in the context of money. She said, ‘I’ve been going out there and doing what you expect me to do. I’ve been saying what you want me to say and I could just go back to the other side.’
‘That was her threat. And it put in my mind that she was fragile and that we could lose her and that would be a terrible loss to the movement.
‘And that is what I most regret; that instead of seeing her as an individual in need, as I should have as a minister, I saw her as a symbol we couldn’t afford to lose.
‘And so, when she said that, I sent her more money and that was to quell her and keep her on our side. That’s how I thought about it and I know I wasn’t alone in that thinking.’
In fact, according to Schenck, there were many discussions at the highest level in which ‘eye-rolling complaints about Norma’ were shared.
He said, ‘We [leadership figures in the movement] would talk about Norma quite often and we would exchange stories about her phone calls. That’s just the way it was. She was a problem to be managed is how we felt about her.’
And she was worth ‘managing’ because, Schenck said, ‘she brought so much value to the movement.’
As the woman who symbolized legal abortion in America she became, he said, ‘The symbol of triumph over our opponents. We had taken the great prize from them.
‘We got the crown jewels. And in a philosophical sense it demonstrated that we had the winning message because if she could be won with this message then we could win anyone. It was the seal of approval from the heavens.
‘And financially she was a windfall. My organization used photography imagery of her, we repeated her story, we used videos and so forth. She would pack the house when we had live events. People came in droves, there were standing-room-only crowds. So, she had that currency for us, and we could not afford to lose her.’
But in later years McCorvey became a liability to the very people who had used her as a mouthpiece. Schenck admitted, ‘Norma became less visible in the movement over the years. She was highly visible for 10 to 15 years and then the last five to seven people assumed she was still active, but she had drifted away really.
‘There were old videos online but there was the feeling that she was dangerous to put in front of a microphone because you couldn’t predict what she was going to say.’
Today Schenck is uncertain how sincere McCorvey’s ‘conversion’ ever was, saying, ‘only God knows the depths of our sincerity’
Today Schenck’s own views have softened and his views McCorvey and the movement’s treatment of her through the prism of profound regret.
He said, ‘Norma began drifting and I began a different journey too. Abortion for me became less of a cause and more of a human experience with all the pain, agony, confusion and dilemmas that present themselves with an unwelcome pregnancy and abortion itself.
‘That’s why I appreciate so much what Nick Sweeney did in his film. He humanizes Norma McCorvey. She speaks for herself without being poked or told what to say or handed a note. And she deserves to be heard.’
Looking back, Schenck said, he believed McCorvey had been used and abused by both sides. He said, ‘It’s hard to say without choking up but I think one of the ways that Norma survived was by allowing people to use her because she was safe if she was used because it gave her a value.
‘I think her identification with the pro-choice movement was a bid for survival and I think her identification with the pro-life movement was a bid for survival.’
He added, ‘I never said, ”Hey here’s somebody we can use and abuse and exploit and if we pay her enough money she’ll keep quiet.”
‘It was more like thinking, ”Okay this woman’s got problems, we’ve all got problems, but we have a much bigger challenge here and if it’s at her expense or my expense so be it.” We ploughed on thinking there was something bigger than Norma McCorvey.
‘But in fact, there was never anything bigger than Norma McCorvey. God only ever cared about Norma not about our movement.’