According to a new documentary, Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, made a deathbed confession that her pro-life conversion and activism was all an act, funded by anti-abortion organizations. I had a few off-the-record conversations with McCorvey over the years, and nothing in those chats felt scripted to me. You can never really know, I suppose. My guess is that McCorvey was a troubled woman, thrown into the middle of one of the most contentious Supreme Court cases in history, who shifted her positions in search of public approval.
Whatever the case, her later stances have no bearing on the debate over abortion. The fact that pro-life groups paid McCorvey to speak is not a big revelation nor a big deal. Nor do her vacillating claims tells us anything valuable about the constitutional validity of Roe v. Wade or the morality of dispensing with human life for convenience.
Yet Laura Basset at GQ would have her readers believe that McCorvey’s deathbed admission tells us everything Americans need to know about the pro-life movement.
Basset’s baffling and ahistorical central claim is that pre-Reagan Republicans were pro-abortion because they were racists and post-Reagan Republicans were pro-life also because they were racists — which is quite convenient.
For starters, there’s a historical problem embedded in the thesis:
Before Roe, Republicans and white evangelicals generally supported abortion rights, much in the way libertarians do now, because to them it meant fewer mothers and children dependent on the government for support. Segregationists, meanwhile, had their own racist reasons. George Wallace, the longtime Republican governor of Alabama, four-time presidential candidate and outspoken segregationist who is often compared to Donald Trump, backed the legalization of abortion in the late 1960s because he claimed black women were “breeding children as a cash crop” and taking advantage of social welfare programs.
Indeed, Wallace shared many of the racist and eugenic attitudes of early progressives, and was a long-time Democrat. GQ has since corrected the mistake, depriving Basset’s piece of its central premise. Not to worry. Contemporary liberals like to designate Wallace the forefather of modern conservatism because it comports with their favored ugly stereotypes, but it’s a rickety argument. Between the years 2012 and 2016, for example, black mothers terminated 136,426 pregnancies and only gave birth to 118,127 babies in the city of New York. Perhaps the rhetoric from Democrats justifying abortion is different, but the results would have greatly pleased the former governor of Alabama.
Basset then turns to the late 1970s to close the circle, and the results are no better. Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and other movement conservatives, she claims, would abandon outright racism and troll for another powerful issue to galvanize grassroots “white evangelicals” who wanted to “keep schools white.” (Modern progressives believe their obsession with race is shared by everyone, living and dead.) Someone forgot to tell the March for Life organizers, who first marched in 1974, to wait around for Weyrich.
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