Roe v. Wade? It’s Complicated
Mixed Blood’s latest production goes beyond the binary of pro-life and pro-choice
By: Megan Hoff
Something powerful has been brewing in the depths of a repurposed firehouse on West Bank. Mixed Blood Theatre’s production of “Roe” made its debut in Minneapolis on Friday, Mar. 15, and it has been a huge hit. Focusing on the history of second-wave feminism and the woman behind “Roe v. Wade,” the play gives audiences an in-depth look at Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe). As March is Women’s History Month, the show couldn’t have had more perfect timing.
Fast-paced, sharp, funny, and heart-wrenching, the play begins with McCorvey and the lawyer who argued her case, Sarah Weddington, diving for a microphone. Each woman wants to give her side of the story. Though both were such a large part of “Roe v. Wade,” the women see the case in very different ways. They disagree over how far along McCorvey was when she first met Weddington, over things said and unsaid, and about Weddington’s failure to include McCorvey in the case proceedings.
Both women wrote books about their experiences. McCorvey wrote two: “I Am Roe” and “Won by Love.” The play references both works, along with Weddington’s book, “A Question of Choice,” numerous times. McCorvey’s second book contradicts her first on multiple occasions. The play acknowledges this and makes the point that history isn’t objective. It all depends on whose lens, whose “truth” one views it through.
Though the argumentative, hilarious quips, and the incredibly in-sync blocking are all phenomenal, the most striking thing about this production is how educational it is. Most people hardly know anything about the women who made abortion legal in the United States, let alone how chaotic the plaintiff’s personal life was. She was a hard-drinking bartender and a lesbian at 21 when she became pregnant with her third child. What may come as a surprise to many is that McCorvey never actually had an abortion; by the time the law passed, she was too far into her pregnancy. The baby was put up for adoption, and to this day, no one knows what happened to “Baby Roe.”
Another historical twist is that McCorvey actually joins the pro-life movement, is baptized, and renounces being a lesbian. This is a win for the pro-life side. McCorvey speaks at rallies, proclaiming that she regrets “Roe v. Wade” and that all life is precious. This puts an even greater strain on her relationship with her old lawyer, Sarah Weddington. Time and again, Weddington brings up her frustration for how much she has fought for this case. The Supreme Court deemed abortion legal in 1973, citing the Fourth Amendment (the right to privacy) as a crucial part of their decision. However, even though abortion was legalized, it has consistently been threatened by state legislation and conservative Supreme Court justices ever since it passed.
Even though “Roe v. Wade” is a divisive topic in a constant state of turmoil, there’s a lot of laughter in “Roe.” Playwright Lisa Loomer doesn’t pull any punches with the jokes, either. One of McCorvey’s retorts to pastor Flip Benham (while she’s still pro-choice) is, “I got a whole shitload of babies to kill.” The play is just as blunt in the serious moments, too. There’s one scene where Weddington describes a seedy abortion in graphic detail, reminding audiences that there were whole hospital wards dedicated to botched, back-alley procedures.
The play doesn’t cater to one side over the other; it does its best to represent both sides of the story equally. It’s not about “this is why you should be pro-x.” It’s “here’s what happened. At least, what each party says happened.” Both sides had flaws. The Christian right and the feminists used McCorvey to further their own agendas. Norma wasn’t perfect, either; she felt that the world owed her something, and she wouldn’t let anyone forget it.
This production showcases the classic arguments used by both sides: “Life starts at conception.” “Abortion is murder.” “Women should have the right to choose.” “Their body, their choice.” etc. Toward the end of the play, all these arguments come to a head. A young pregnant woman confronts Weddington and McCorvey, asking them to tell her what to do. The point made here is simple and profound: neither woman nor the law can or should tell her which decision to make. As Weddington states, “The law is there to allow you to make one.”