Skip to main content

tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 15, 2022 6:56am-8:01am EDT

6:56 am
i know i could get a job here.
6:57 am
6:58 am
6:59 am
7:00 am
i am i think and as far as liberty is meaningful. that liberty to these women would mean liberty from being
7:01 am
forced to continue the unwanted pregnancy. branch of your argument simply on the due process clause in the 14th amendment. we had originally brought the suit alleging both the due process clause equal protection clause the 9th amendment and a variety of others then anything else. it might. yeah, right, you know since the district court found the right to reside in the nights amendment we pointed our attention in the brief. so that particular aspect of the constitution. that was an exchange between jane roe council sarah weddington and supreme court justice potter stewart in the december 13th, 1971 argument of roe vs. suede joshua prager. you've spent 12 years working on a book about the row case. did it lead you to being able to explain or understand better why this has been as in your words
7:02 am
the most enduringly divisive case ever decided by the supreme court. well, i think that there is something unique about america and abortion that has sort of left us vulnerable to this problem. and then there were also sort of enormous forces at work that it that then worked hard to sort of exploit that vulnerability and so it was a combination of things that were sort of uniquely american i think our puritanical roots have something to do with it the sort of seeming a reconcile ability of sex and religion and then again forces on both sides of the issue that then benefited in a sense from having this become such an enormous problem and they worked hard to politicize it etc the heart of your book of course is norma mccorvey aka jane rose life story. what are the aspects of norma mccorvey's life and personality
7:03 am
that are essential for us to know as we start this conversation. well, i mentioned already sort of sex and religion and when i started this project, i really had no idea kind of who she was norma was a compulsive liar the story she put out about herself or not true and what was fascinating to me as i then began to look at her life, and i was i spent a lot of time with our hundreds of hours with her over the last four years of her life as i got to know her and also got to know her family her mother and her grandmother. i came to see that in many ways. the very things that helped us sort of pull apart this country on this issue pulled apart her family. she was the third consecutive sort of generation in her family to have had an unwanted pregnancy and the consequences of those pregnancies were enormous in her family just to give one example her mother her biological mother. mary was 17 years old when she
7:04 am
was pregnant for the first time and what happened was her family. she lived in a tiny town along the atchafalaya river in louisiana. her family made her leave they disappeared her from their town. she went to the big city of baton rouge so that they wouldn't be humiliated by the fact that they're unwed daughter was pregnant and she then was she gave birth and that child was then taken away from mary and raised by her parents right across this river and so she basically was not able to be a mother to her child. she had to pretend the child was not her child and that had devastating consequences for mary and then in turn that was the home that norma grew up with jane rose mother had had her life completely rerouted by an unwanted pregnancy. she became an alcoholic she had a broken marriage. she slept with many of the men she served drinks to and this
7:05 am
was sort of the home that norma grew up in a home where sex was elicit and sinful and when that was sort of complicated further for norma when she then came out to her mother as a lesbian in her early teen years her mother told me mary told me that she beat norma for that and so sex was something very very complicated for norma her parents were jehovah's witnesses and and when she then got married at the age of 16 years old to a man. she then quickly got pregnant that marriage fell apart and she then had another child both of those children she gave birth to were surrendered to adoption and by the time norma was pregnant for the third time in 1969. she had already sort of suffered enormously for the relinquishment of her children, and she did not want to go through that again. and so she said i want to have
7:06 am
an abortion abortion of course was illegal and therein where this sort of seeds of her becoming roby wade. so jane rhodes, excuse me, the important meeting was with linda coffee. so let's bring her into the story that you tell who was she and how did the two of these women get together? so norma as i say is pregnant for the third time in 1969, she does not want to have a child and she doesn't want to have it to raise and she does not want to relinquish the child. i'll just sort of add to what i was saying before that when she gave birth to her first child, melissa. she begged her mother mary to take the child off of her hands. and so just as mary had to give up her child to her mother here now was norma giving up her child to her mother even though she begged her mother to take the child off her hands. there was an interesting sort of
7:07 am
similarity there and echo of a previous generation well normally later lied. she said that her child had been kidnapped by her mother. she lied a lot and when in fact she was begging her mother to sort of take that child off and the mother did adopt her. what was interesting. there was a common thread to norma's lies. she was always reimagining her self as not a sinner in this case someone who didn't wish to be a mother but as a victim someone who had had the child taken from her well when she's pregnant the third time, she then goes to her adoption attorney the same man henry mccloskey who had brokered the adoptions of a previous two children. and she says look, i don't really want to have this child, but there's nothing i can do my doctor would not perform an abortion. he told me abortion was illegal as an aside another lie norma later told people that she had gone to an abortion clinic, but that had just been shuttered and there was dried blood on the
7:08 am
floor and it was very dramatic and horrible in truth. it was much more sort of much more sort of less dramatic. she had found in a legal abortion clinic it was safe, but she couldn't afford the $500 that it would cost to have the abortion. so she goes to this adoption attorney henry mccluskey, and he says, you know what someone i went to school with someone i went to law school with linda coffee is looking for a plaintiff is looking for someone to file suit against the abortion statutes in texas norm asks, what a plaintiff is henry says, it's someone who brings a lawsuit and she says will it help me to have an abortion? he says i don't know, but i will introduce you so henry. who by the way had filed suit against the sodomy statutes in texas, and there was a lot of overlap back then and the fights for sort of gay rights and women's rights. he introduces norma to linda and linda then brings into the fold
7:09 am
sarah weddington another person. she had gone to law school with we just heard sarah speaking in that in that tape when she argued the case in front of the supreme court, so that is how norma comes to be the plaintiff jane row and her lawyers are linda coffee and sarah weddington, so i have a clip linda coffee is very difficult to find anything about online and we found one clip from the smu archives, but before we get to her when the two met norma and and linda coffee were each very clear with the other about what their desired outcome for. that is a very important question. so norma did tell linda that she wanted an abortion and linda did tell her look you are pretty far along. i can see just by looking at you in your pregnancy, and i don't know if that's going to happen. so in that sense, there was sort of transparency there, but that's where the transparency ended because when sarah weddington joined the team as
7:10 am
she then did right then in january of 1970. sarah did not tell norma that she worked in an abortion referral network. she didn't tell her that they were flying women and girls who wanted to have abortions out to california every single friday on a plane and american airlines in california abortion was legal through the 20th week of pregnancy governor reagan had had signed into law the abortion therapeutic act which was the most sort of liberal abortion law in the country 1967. so not only did sarah not tell her that she might have been able to help her another woman. i spoke to in that abortion referral network victoria foe told me that in desperate situations. they were able to help women up to the 20th week and that's right about where normal was 19 20th weeks. not only that sarah did not tell norma that she herself had had an abortion at a clinic in mexico. just south of the border had the
7:11 am
lawyers really wanted to help norma to have an abortion. they could have at least tried but of course norma was more valuable to them pregnant than not pregnant. they desperately needed a plaintiff and it had been very hard to find one. they needed to find someone who was unhappily pregnant and who could not afford to go to where abortion was legal and norma fit the bill. so first time that norma in her story was used in the abortion story as it unfolds in the united states. i want to go back to this very brief clip of linda coffee just talk about the two lawyers. let's watch and again, this is one of the very few times that she's actually available to the press. this was in june of 1970 after the first case was heard. if you can have an abortion and assuming that she has it in, texas. she need no longer suffer any kind of guilt feelings because of engendered by the fact that
7:12 am
the supposed fact that she is committing and illegal act. of course. she may still encounter some difficulty in finding a physician who will perform an abortion since positions would still face the threat of prosecution. that was after the first appeal at the federal level. that's a really interesting dynamic between sarah a weddington and and linda coffee. why is it that we know so little of her and sarah weddington is is very available in most newspaper archives and archives like ours and state associated with the case for the next decades. yeah, so sarah is very famous her life changed forever when she argued the case in front of the supreme court. she was just 26 years old and the reason that we all know sarah and no one knows linda and i tried very hard in my book to sort of restore linda to her proper place in history is because as much as sarah loved
7:13 am
the spotlight and she did and still does linda ran from it. she was reclusive and it is a real tragedy to say that today the woman who really more than anyone as i can argue, i think persuasively is the real sort of matriarch of row is living today in real poverty. she's living on food stamps with her partner. she was bankrupt and she has lives in a house with no heat. so it was linda coffee. who as we mentioned through henry mccloskey finds the plaintiff jane row. it is she who wishes to she comes up with its initial sort of legal reasoning to to ground the right to abortion in privacy building on a case in 1965 case of griswold, which gave married couples the right to purchase
7:14 am
contraception. she argues half of the case at the lower courts, and i think just as importantly as just as important as anything else. she has the sort of guts to attach her name to the case and file it which they are did not wish to do initially in 1970 in march 1970 then as the case sort of gain steam and it rises up the judicial ladder and it goes to the supreme court. they both decide linda and sarah both that it would be great. if sarah was the one who argued the case in the supreme court sarah does you know she works very hard preparing for that but a lot of that was optics. she looked a certain way. she was very feminine and linda always had sort of must-hair and was very uncomfortable in front of the cameras and almost immediately when rose decided in january of 1973 sarah really cuts linda from the story. she starts saying i instead of we and linda does nothing to
7:15 am
correct the record what sort of fascinating is this infuriates not linda belinda's mother and linda's mother worked for the southern baptist convention. and what's fascinating to me. i didn't know this when i started doing this work. was that the sbc this enormous evangelical body was pro-choice until 1980 and so there was room for linda in her church. she was a religious baptist herself, and she was able to sort of have the comfort of her church and of her conviction later on the church switches about faces not only on abortion but also on homosexuality, which was very difficult for linda because she is gay and also sort of on just the place of a woman in the home they speak of the need for a woman to be sort of subservient to the man and linda of course was a real feminist so for all of these reasons, she's sort of feels alienated from her church, and this also
7:16 am
contributes unfortunately to her sort of unraveling and so hers is a very sad story but she remains proud of roe to this day and it was exciting for me to to interview her and to tell her story really for the first time. so, let's move to the supreme court in 1971 hearing the case. unusually, they heard the case twice. why is that? that was because two of the justices were ill and so there were only seven justices the first time it was heard and they felt for a case with this sort of importance. it really ought to be re-argued in front of the full nine justices. the opinion was assigned by the chief justice to harry blackman and just as with sarah weddington and jane roe this case came to define his life and his career. let's listen to him in 1995 talking about what his mailbox was like after the case.
7:17 am
and there were the expected. comments to the effect that your mother should have aborted you. or i have been praying for your immediate death. and much of the correspondence is abusive. i suspect i've been called every possible apathetical name. author of a new dred scott opinion hitler pontius pilate herod murderer mad men and the like i can outrun joseph swan the abolitionist judge and i suspect i cannot run chief justice. roger tony joshua prager in your book you describe the courts mechanicians. particularly justice blackmon laboring over the decision, you know, and that clip we played we heard sarah weddington talk about which constitutional amendment they were really focusing on how did harry blackman end up deciding the the
7:18 am
core of the argument that others would sign on to so you see when you look at his papers the sort of evolution of the opinion and initially he sends out a draft of a memo to his fellow justices and they're not impressed. but he has extra time and it is a clerk of his george frampton who really ends up writing the majority of the sort of constitutional analysis. it's only a few paragraphs in the opinion while just as blackman goes to the mayo clinic where he had served as the lawyer there for years and which by the way had also sort of attuned him to the plight of women who had died because abortion was not legal yet and he writes the kind of history of abortion in religion in the law in america etc. well, there are two questions that justice blackmon has to grapple with that the court has the black grapple with it's not
7:19 am
only where in the constitution to ground the right to abortion. it's also until when in a pregnancy can that right be extended and granted and these are the sort of two big questions that they're working on. well later on there were of people including on the pro-choice side who felt that abortion should never have the right to abortion should never have been grounded in privacy, but rather as justice ginsburg said and she said it before she was on the court it ought to have been grounded in equality and when case in 1992 is decided planned parent to be casey that really is where it then takes its grounding in the right to equality. but at the time it was privacy in that same interview 1995 that you just that we were listening to justice blackman says that he wouldn't have had the votes the ground it inequality as opposed to privacy at that time because
7:20 am
of the precedent that i mentioned earlier in the case of griswold. there's debate over whether or not that's true. but as for when in the course of the pregnancy to grant the right, it's really interesting just by complete chance. a few months before rose decided in september 1972. there's a district judge who is still living john newman in connecticut who rules on a case abel e markle where he says that abortion needs to be legal through viability until the point in the pregnancy it roughly the end of the second trimester 24 weeks or so when the fetus can survive outside of the womb until that point and it's just this stewart and another justice who really calls justice blackman's attention to that ruling until that point. justice blackmon was actually leaning towards just legalizing abortion through the end of the first trimester, but at the very
7:21 am
end, he's sort of switches and pushes that right forward by a trimester and the justices are happy. they are impressed with the opinion and even those who dissent there's rankwist and white justice reckless white rights and to justice blackmon complementing him on his opinion the court ruled on january 22nd 1973 a date, which is memorialized each year by a major march here in washington dc. what was the immediate impact? you know, it's interesting the country acclimated, of course, there were those right away. chief among them catholics who said that this is horrible and they likened it as we said to dred scott and and you know vowed that this was that they would never stop fighting but initially most of the country says, okay, we'll move along insurance companies will cover the procedure. it's it's available now in in
7:22 am
hospitals all over the country there a remarkably telling episode. is that the first time there is a potential justice who to the court justice stevens at his senate confirmation hearing. he's not even asked of roe v wade, so the country is moving forward, but there was a small person a small minority that said no we going to do all we can to overturn this decision and that small minority begins to grow and grow and grow and initially there was a desire on the part of the pro-life community to try to overturn this in one fell swoop by having a personhood amendment introduced to the constitution if you say that a fetus is a person then of course they can't be aborted but that there's no
7:23 am
real appetite political appetite even among those who oppose abortion for the personhood amendments and so the movement begins to sort of say, okay, we can't go one fell swoop. we're going to take an incremental approach and it's in 1976. when the national right to life committee led by a woman i write a lot about in my book dr. mildred jefferson. were they really begin to politicize abortion and earnest now we can discuss there was some politicizing of abortion before row, but in 1976, they make it an issue during the presidential election. they make presidential candidates sort of comment on issue, you know opinions on the matter of abortion and they introduce into the republican platform opposition to row and that really presses fast forward on this politicizing and then the democrats follow suit and
7:24 am
and here we are almost 50 years later. what's really interesting to me i mentioned before how until 1980 the southern baptist convention was pro-choice. what was really fascinating was this was not a partisan issue that also really shocked me you had plenty of republicans who were pro-choice we mentioned governor reagan george bush the senior george bush on the other side. you had plenty of democrats who were pro-life senator kennedy of course was catholic so it was easy for him, but others jesse jackson kept part al gore but little by little by little as the issue becomes more and more politicized. all the politicians get in line and now of course, there is no greater indicator of political affiliation than one stance on an abortion. we found one clip in our video library of mildred jefferson back from 1989 when she was president of the right to life crusade and you describe her as
7:25 am
a star the first black woman to graduate from harvard medical school and someone who became the lifeblood of the pro-life movement in its early days. let's watch and listen to mildred jefferson. the people of the united states should be alarmed that there are those among us who would actually march in the streets to demand the right? to choose to kill the unwanted the unloved the burdensome the inconvenient and the incapacitated the demonstration of our adversary human beings suggests a lack of heart soul and common sense it underscores that we are resolved as never before. that every woman's organization in this country has got to deal with these issues a little more forthrightly than has been possible in the past. joshua prager in a scene in your book you describe her as
7:26 am
possibly convincing ronald reagan to change his position on abortion tell me story. yeah, not even possibly it's sort of remarkable. we have a letter from him. he writes her and says you did convince me she appeared. i mean you could hear just from that clip. i mean she was a mesmerizingly good speaker. she was also beautiful which did not hurt when she was on tv over and over again. and before i get to reagan, i'll just say what i think was really important about her sort of biography was the pro-life community was desperate to be seen as more than just sort of white catholic men and here you had a black methodist woman also a doctor and so she basically checked every single box and she was being put on television over and over and over again by that movement because she was so effective and she was on a television show called the advocates where she was arguing against abortion and she was looking at slides of abortion sort of medical slides and sort
7:27 am
of using her medical language to sort of say what is happening. fetus here, what is happening to the fetus there and often california a governor reagan watched that and he wrote her a letter saying you have convinced me that the taking of the of unborn life is is murder and i don't remember murder as the word he uses but something to that effect or that abortion is the taking of of human life. i think that's what he wrote and they have a few more letters back and forth and when he then becomes president one of the first people he invites to his side in the first days of his presidency, is is dr. jefferson. he signaling to her that you're going to remain an important person in this issue as long as i occupy this office and she does i argue i think i argue in the book, excuse me that she really is the architect of the pro-life movement politicizing
7:28 am
row and republicanizing opposition to row. she forrest saw the great value. of politics is a way to sort of bring over to the republican party catholic democrats, and she's very effective in doing this now again some of this started pre-row. we have a letter that pat buchanan wrote a memo to president nixon saying that there was value in opposing row, but it really begins in earnest after she takes over the national right to life committee in 1976, and i don't want to spend too much time because we'll run out of time. but you say she was ultimately forced out of her position leading it. does she get enough credit in the history books for the role. she played not at all. what was fascinating to me about dr. jefferson? and also we mentioned linda coffee and i argue a third person as well in the book dr. curtis boyd. these people are incredibly important and yet all but unknown and she needs to be known. she's a very important person
7:29 am
and we see sort of the the results of her work all these years later with the upcoming sort of overturning. i think we would all agree of row and she really laid the laid the foundation for that. i'll just add the pro-life committee a community. they look at her as sort of this saint of their movement because she left the heights of her medical profession we mentioned she was the first black woman to graduate from harvard medical school to tend to sort of the unborn as they say. well, it's much more complicated than that. i found an fbi file all about her because she was a president nixon wanted to appoint her medical board and they looked into her life and the reason she left the medical profession for a life of advocacy was not because of sort of conviction as opposed to desperation. misogyny and racism. i really torpedoed her career as a surgeon and she was then unsure what she would do and then pre-row when the american
7:30 am
medical association comes out and says if a doctor is in a state where abortion is legal they now need to defer to those state laws. she's very angry about that and then she gets introduced to the movement and sort of it goes on from there. yeah, curtis boyd gets a great deal of coverage in your book as does dr. and again, just a minute or two. an ordained minister at the age of 16 another one of your very complex characters in the story became the head of abortion clinics in texas and new mexico estimating that he's performed 250,000 abortions over his career as you tell the story dr. boyd kept pushing the outer edge of the viability question at the same time. the medical profession is pushing the other direction and increasing the viability of the fetus successfully. it's it was on a collision course, obviously. why did dr. boyd continue to push the to the outer edges?
7:31 am
well, today's the largest provider of third trimester abortion in this country, and he does that because his friend dr. tiller is murder and what was so fascinating to me about dr. boyd just very quickly is that you know, you watch him grapple with this. he initially doesn't want to provide any abortions. then pre-row a poor woman comes to him in texas. she can't afford to have another child basically and he he aborts the pregnancy. it's just 10 weeks along and then he stops at 16 weeks and then finally a few more years go by and he stops a viability, but then a woman comes to him and it turns out that she's carrying a fetus that has tay-sax disease a miserable disease that will cause the a baby to die. basically, you know an infancy or as a toddler suffer along the way and then he feels very bad. why did i not abort that pregnancy? why did i say? no, and after dr. tiller is murdered. he's feels that it is something that he must do and the single most important thing about him and he's a very important person
7:32 am
is that he prefigures the attitudinal shift in the pro-choice movement from being something that abortion should be safely legal and rare as president. clinton famously put it to to not saying it should be rare. why should it be rare? it's something he believes as a social and moral good something that empowers women. and so that movement has sort of adopted his view of abortion. so let's bring the story or about the 30 minute mark. let's bring the story back to norma mccorvey. so the abortion decision is made by the supreme court in 1973. she was pregnant in 1969. so many people believed as you did that she had had a abortion what actually happened yeah, i was i mean just to step back you say as i did. it's true the way the way i got into this whole. crazy decade of work was i was reading an article in 2010 about gay marriage which mentioned that sometimes a plaintiff is wonderful for the cause she
7:33 am
represents and sometimes she isn't and in the latter category, they mentioned norma because as well discussion she switches over to the prolife side and then they mentioned parenthetically that she'd not have the abortion. she saw it and i said, oh my god that of course not because law case takes longer than the gestation of a baby. and so i then dove into this world, and yes, i found out that she is pregnant in 1969. she gives birth in june of 1970 and she relinquishes that that child to adoption now. as the years go by the pro-life world looks at that unknown child. no one knew who that person was as the sort of incarnation of their argument against abortion because they will say instead of just arguing in the abstract against the abortion. they say well this human being would have been murdered had roe been in effect and they referred to this unknown person as the
7:34 am
real baby. well, i wanted to find that person because i had a feeling that he or she knew who she had been born too. and i had a feeling that it would be a very difficult thing to carry knowing that you are seeing as this enormous symbol and i reached out to norma. this is how my whole sort of process began. she did not wish to speak to me because she said i had to pay her i explained i couldn't do that and i instead reached out to a woman named connie gonzalez. norma's partner of many years. she is really the only person enormous life who cared more about norma about jane rowe an approach choice side norma was really marginalized on the pro-life side. she was really exploited and here was a woman who just loved norma and wanted to be with her. well norma unfortunately did not treat connie particularly well, and she had just left connie after connie had a stroke when i reached out to connie and i visited her in texas and it was during my second visit to her
7:35 am
when she says to me by the way. my home is being foreclosed on and norma's private papers in the garage are about to be thrown out and i say please don't throw them out. those are important papers. can i have them and she says yes, i later purchased those papers from norma and they're now at a research library at harvard. well, it was in those papers on one sheet that the date of birth of norma's third child was mentioned in an interview norma gave to a catholic newsletter, june 2nd 1970 and that ended up enabling me to find that third child. i reached out not to her but to her mother just in case she didn't know who she'd been born to but the mother said, yes, we do know about norma and i will let my daughter know that you got in touch shelley is her name shelly thornton. she did not wish to speak yet at that moment to me, but when i then got back in touch a year
7:36 am
later and told her that i had found her two half siblings the other children norma had given birth to and relinquished to adoption and that they wish to work with me on a book. then shelley said that she did too and two years later in 2013. it was sort of beautiful the three daughters had all looked for each other and i was able to bring them together and and that was really a very moving moment for the three of them and for me too. why did norma agree to start talking to you? so when norma's mother mary died, and i think that might have been just the next year in 2014. i went to the wake norma's eldest child melissa. who was the only of the three daughters to sort of have norma in her life, even though she'd been raised by her grandmother norma was in her life. melissa invited me to the wake and i was at the wake when norma showed up. and i kept my distance and then
7:37 am
after the wake melissa invited norma and me to her home and she turned to her mother her biological mother and said mom i want you to be good to this person. meaning me he is helping us sort of figure out what happened when he's helping us find he's help he's helped us find each other meaning the three daughters and norma it was an interesting thing that sort of clicked norma had lied as i mentioned many times during her life. and after a while she actually forgot what had happened in her life the lies sort of overtook her narrative and there were so many of them the first lie. she ever told was that about row i should say was that she'd gotten pregnant by a rape that one she famously recanted, but all the others she just sort of let let made them public and never corrected them and she was dying. she had done an enormous amount
7:38 am
of drugs. she had struggled with alcohol abuse. she smoked a lot. she suffered with a lot of lung issues and she saw in me, i think an opportunity. help figure out exactly what happened when and also connect with her children. she had never met her second or third children. and so she started to work with me and just to give one example of how helpful she was to me when i said to her, you know, what norma you've told so many different stories about your schooling. it would be helpful for me if we could figure it out. she signed a letter notarizing the sort of local board of education to give me her file and when she did that i found in her file the name of the person who was really her first girlfriend and when i interviewed that woman she was the person who helped me tell me the exactly what happened about norma not having her child kidnapped but having a begging her mother to sort of take that child off her hands. she was also the only one who knew the name of the biological
7:39 am
father of norma's second child and so little by little over the course of these years i was able to put norma's life together. so the great conund of norma mccorvey's life is her activism on both sides of the abortion movement. we have two pieces of videotape back to back one from 1990 and one from 2005 showing her making both arguments. this is the first case before the united states supreme court this year in which judge sutter will deal with an individuals right to choose. we he has implied that he will use the constitutional framework not his personal beliefs to influence his decisions while on the court now, we will see if this is applied to the reproductive rights issue. we asked him not to overturn roe versus wade. we're looking forward to having abortion the covenant of death to be overturned like our great
7:40 am
president george w just said, and god is good. and jesus is joshua prager, were you able to understand her turnaround? yeah, i'm smiling only also because what's so fascinating is little by little she's learning. she learns the language of both sides. so at one point she said abortion is up covenant of death, and she did the exact same thing on the pro-choice side. well, what was really fascinating about norma? look she was very much. comfortable pledging herself to ideologies that were not her own and there was an enormous cost to her becoming pro-life. which was that she was also made to renounce her homosexuality, but she did have an opinion that was genuine and that was her own even though she didn't make it public.
7:41 am
days after roe v wade in 1973. she was interviewed by a tiny baptist newsletter and in that newsletter. she says, you know what it's her first ever interview. i believe i'm thankful that my case has helped to legalize abortion, but i don't know if a person should ever have an abortion after the first trimester after that point. she says to this reporter, it strikes me that it is the taking of a human life. and at the very end of her life well before i get to that she then says that exact same thing on air to ted koppel right after her conversion which infuriates her new friends in operation rescue in the pro-life movement. they say no no, you can't say that eventually she gets in line publicly. well at the very end of her life, she says it again to me over and again literally from her deathbed. she's hospitalized of last week
7:42 am
for life. i was with her in fact when she passed away so from the beginning to the middle to the end. this is what she believed and what's so fascinating is that in that way she really was the perfect plaintiff for abortion because for row because for she represents the majoritarian middle ground here in america, that is exactly what the great majority of americans feel now. there's also a real sort of american angle to this she monetizes her plaintiff shift she rings from it a living and so she's being paid to give speeches on the pro-choice side. she's being paid to give speeches on the pro-life side and you know, she'll say what she's paid to say, but she does have an opinion and she wanted that known she never had an abortion and she also really wanted it known that she had given birth to three children now just to sort of say one more thing. what's so interesting is her her life is such a mirror and a window into this whole big thing
7:43 am
of abortion in america and the pro-life wish to say aha look at her look at the cost of abortion. well, she never had an abortion and what she actually is a fascinating sort of testimony to is the cost of adoption. she's struggled enormously emotionally with what it meant to have relinquished her three children to adoption and the pro life say the exact opposite. they say that a woman who is pregnant with a child. she doesn't want needs to relinquish that child and that abortion causes women psychological harm. well, it's the exact opposite. that is true. there are individuals, of course who have abortions who struggle but even as see everett coop said the pro-life surgeon general under ronald reagan from a public health standpoint that psychological toll is minuscule. there was reported speculation that norma mccorvey was paid to convert to the pro-life point of view where you able to discern whether or not that was true or false. yeah, that was nonsense that was
7:44 am
in an fx documentary last year. i had her taxes. i knew all about her finances norma was a compulsive liar and the filmmaker there says were you paid to switch sides? you can't ask a question like that to norma. she'll say of course, but no it is true that she knew that there was financial incentive to switch. he knew that she'd be paid to give speeches on the other side, but she was not paid to actually do it, you know if there's one thing above all that led norma to switch sides it was as i say her marginalization by the pro-choice movement and when she finds out in 1992 when sarah weddington writes this in a book that not only had she been working in an abortion referral network and didn't tell norma but that she herself had an abortion norma is furious and that really she writes with very i write quoting her and very colorful language what she said about how she was going to show them, you know that they needed to sort of take her seriously
7:45 am
and they did have to take her seriously after she switched sides and becoming pro life was not a little thing it actually had huge ramifications a lawyer named alan parker. file suit on her behalf a case called mccrory v hill in which he says that row needs to be overturned because of all sorts of problems that he then goes into and it's those exact arguments that parker makes in that case that we just heard the lawyers in dobbs make that that abortion causes women cyclocological harm that science has shown us that the fetus is causing pain that that a woman can relinquish her child to adoption all of these arguments. allen parker was making and it was and it was norma mccorvey who enabled him to do so. of course, there are many millions of true believers on both sides of this issue, but one of the other things your book illustrates is the industries that grew up around both sides of this the millions
7:46 am
of dollars raised for causes did norma benefit from any of that. she did. i mean she she did she was. she didn't make a lot of money, but she she got by some years. she was only making 30 40 50 thousand dollars some year a little more some years a little less in the teens or in the 20s, but yes, there was always another podium where she was invited to speak. there are the sort of crisis pregnancy centers on the pro-life side that that always go right next to an abortion. excuse me a place where an abortion clinic and they sort of make it unclear which side they stand on and they would also pay normal to come and speak at these places. yeah, so she did she was able to sort of make a living and what's really amazing. is this uneducated woman she drops out of school in 10th grade. she's dealing with enormous personalities on both sides powerful people and she sort of
7:47 am
migrates from the pro-choice side to the pro-life side from the evangelicals to the catholics always finding another community that will pay her to tell her story and to tell sort of say publicly what she wants them to she was very canny in that way and yet what's so tragic is that they didn't treat her well and at the very end of her life, you know, you have these two movements she gave her body to one side. she gave her soul to the other in a sense and they weren't there for her in any way and it was sort of very sad to see less than 15 minutes left. let's turn to the daughters. we have a clip of melissa mills norma corby's oldest daughter. the one you said that was closest to her. this is from september of this year 2021 let's watch. yeah, she felt guilty and people made her feel bad for the part and the role that she played with the roe versus wade case and all the babies that were aborted through the years and people would call her a killer. they called her satan. they called her all kinds of
7:48 am
terrible things. it was it was cruel. she melissa invited you to be at norma's bedside when norman passed you accepted that invitation and literally called melissa to tell her when her mother was near death. i'm wondering about how you as a journalist were able to remain dispassionate when you were so closely involved with the family. it was very complicated. i am a person who rides myself on sort of being an ethical journalist. i very careful when i'm talking to people who are not used to being interviewed for example to always make sure that they're comfortable with the with what they're saying that it goes in the book. i went over the passages in the book with them to make sure they were comfortable you know you also just journalism aside want to be a good person and and do what's right. it's a complicated thing at the very end of of norma's life.
7:49 am
you're right. melissa had asked me she wanted to run home for a shower. she asked me to go to norma's bedside and there you are and you're not thinking as a journalist there. you're saying. oh my goodness, you know, this is this is sad. there's a human being who's dying here and her daughter needs to be there. so i quickly called melissa and asked her to come back. you know, i have my mentors paul steiger who was my boss when he was everybody's boss at the wall street journal colin murphy who was an editor at the atlantic people who really know what a journalist should do and i would check in with them and talk to them and talk these things through it was complicated. but you know always i tried to sort of be transparent and honest and with with the people i was writing about and there were times that i think you know, i probably did what isn't perfect from a journalism point of view because it struck me as the right thing to do for example at one point just to say i haven't said this before one of the daughters was really struggling financially and i tried to help her find a job and
7:50 am
you know you do you do what you do. so and those are choices you sort of make as you go along but overall i was very lucky in that the daughters wanted this story told and and they felt comfortable with me telling it the fact that i worked with them over the course of a decade. i think really helped make that possible. i want to get shelly thornton on camera before we close here about eight minutes left because it was your reporting that encouraged her to become public. this is an interview with abc in the early october of this year. do you have an opinion about whether women should be allowed to have abortions? i just either side or both sides coming at me. i'm not going to let either side. use me. she saw what happened to her
7:51 am
mother and didn't want to become part of that. but why did you think she's agreed to give interviews at this point? you know, i'm so glad she did because ultimately i'm the person writing her story if she wishes to sort of speak for herself. i think that's wonderful. you know, i've written a lot about people who carry secrets over the years. i wrote for example about the only anonymous winner of a pulitzer prize a photographer i found in iran and who had taken a photograph of an execution during the islamic revolution. it's a very difficult thing to carry a secret and when i approach shelley i saw that she was, you know suffering for that under that very same burden and on the one hand you're worried about people sort of coming at you on the other hand. you want to sort of get out from under this and not feel that you always have to be mindful not to say something and i think that's why they all agreed to speak with me and you know, their lives are complicated they all just to sort of mention all three of the daughters in a sense echoed enormous feelings
7:52 am
about abortion. they all believe that abortion ought to be legal and yet they don't speak about it in the way that you know, the leaders at naral might want you to and they certainly don't feel it is a social and moral good as dr. boyd would say, but they don't think that it ought to be a form of birth control to use their language again, but i didn't focus at all on row with them. we talked about their lives and in a sense. their children them norma norma's mother norma's grandmother. you have five generations here of a family and overall when you when you look at their family you see how complicated it is and a very human level when abortion is not legal and i don't, you know, i mentioned in the authors note that i'm pro-choice, but i was very fair to both sides. i did my very best to write about both sides with with fairness and understanding and i just wanted to sort of humanize these issues and in writing about the family i was able to do so did norma and shelley ever meet they did not they did not
7:53 am
it was devastating to shelley for very good reason when she finds out on the first she sort of thrilled to find out that her biological mother is looking for her many children who have been given up her adoption feel that but then she finds out that really norma is not looking for the middle child jennifer. she's only looking for her norma is hoping that they can sort of go on the road together and be paid to give speeches and and shelley doesn't want any part of that understandably. she just wants to find out who her biological mother is so they have an initial sort of difficult conversation in 1989. shelley finds out who she was we didn't mention this when the national inquirer a tabloid sort of comes upon her in a parking lot days before her 19th birthday and says we're going to basically write about you whether you like it or not. she prevails upon them with the help of a lawyer not to have her name mentioned, but that's when she's sort of carrying this burden ever more and and sorry,
7:54 am
i forgot what i was just gonna say about the two of them meeting. what was the question it was about to tell yeah, that's right. that's right. and so right then in 1989 is when they sort of have a difficult first conversation. that's when shelley finds out that norma really just wants to take their show on the road a few years later. they have their final conversation norma wants to come visit her with her partner. connie shelley feels uncomfortable. she says, well, what am i going to tell my children that they're they're grandmother has a girlfriend shelley. excuse me. norma's furious. she tells her that shelly needs to thank her shelley says why and enormous says for not aborting you a horrible thing to say setting aside that she actually had wanted to have the abortion. what's so fascinating to me and admirable is that shelley? nonetheless finds it within herself at the end of norma's life to feel for norma to feel for what she had to carry all those years as the plaintiff in row and she says you know this
7:55 am
woman's life was defined by abortion and row and my will my life will be the opposite. i will want to have nothing to do with this and she is being true to that not much time left, but many of the characters in this in this book that you've written have their life defined by the abortion is so you yourself 12 years now you've been working on this. did you feel consumed by this issue as well? yeah, you know you see that people on both sides of the issue when they devote themselves to row their lives are often very complicated. they become overwhelmed by it. it happened to curtis boyd. it happened to mildred jefferson mildred jefferson literally dies in a pile of their papers that documented her 40-year fight for abortion norma. it certainly happened to it was an overwhelming thing for me and i am proud to have finished this book. i think there is a need for it to look at abortion not through
7:56 am
politics but through people and yet i'm also really glad to be finished and turning the page and and writing about other things. ultimately. what should norma become can considered a symbol of i would say really how. how complicated abortion is i do think that abortion is fraught for good reason on the one hand. you have the humanity of the fetus on the other hand. you have the very real and overwhelming reasons a woman might wish to have an abortion. norma was incredibly. pulled apart by this issue and she reflected. she was ambivalent about it and people on both sides of the issue. she confided in when the cameras were not there. she told them how complicated she thought this was and and in that sense as i sort of mentioned earlier. i think that she was the right
7:57 am
plaintiff for row a better sort of symbol than a glorious steinem would have been because norma was normal wise conflicted about it and so are the great majority of americans last question. we have one minute. would you comment on the subtitle and also the cover of your book the decisions you made about both? sure, so the subtitle and american story was put forward by my editor and i liked it immediately because on the one hand i'm writing about. how this is an american story and a macro level the sort of reasons that the american traditions that made america again sort of fertile ground for abortion to become so to take root in such a complicated way such a divisive way, and i'm also writing an american story as it relates to norma again.
7:58 am
she she is being paid. she's getting baptized in a swimming pool in texas while the cameras are rolling gloria already is whistling her off to hollywood. so it's a very american story in terms of the cover. it was my suggestion to the art director that she's somehow sort of communicate a notion of divide and rupture and i thought that she did so beautifully with the american flag sort of peeking up almost like a palampist from beneath this rip. i thought it was it was beautifully rendered. the new book is the family row in american story joshua prager long time reporter. who's a dozen years of his life telling the story of norma mccorvey aka jane roe. thank you for spending an hour with c-spam. thanks for having me. i appreciate it. all q&a programs are available
7:59 am
on our website or as a podcast on our c-span now app.
8:00 am
we're going to cover the mexican-american war today. this is where a lot of americans. i think they know very little about it. it's considered one of the more embarrassing wars in american history and there's reason sometimes americans don't like to talk about it my own mother even though i've lectured on the mexican-american war for years and written a couple books about it still thinks i study the spanish-american war sometimes and but we cleared up that confusion actually a few years back. so what i get to do is not take us through battle by battle in the war but look mainly at the the causes of the war and then a little bit about the war itself


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on