Former NARAL Pro-Choice America president Kate Michelman spoke at Town Hall last night. She spoke of her own transforming moment in the late sixties, when as a practicing Catholic and a stay-at-home mom with three young daughters, she was suddenly abandoned by her husband, with no financial support… only to discover she was pregnant.
Michelman spoke of her own internal struggle, her responsibility not just to care for her daughters, but to provide them with a sense of stability and security, and how a pregnancy at that time, under those circumstances would surely have turned “a crisis into a catastrophe.” She spoke of her decision to go against the teachings of her church, and for the good of her daughters, terminate her pregnancy.
Michelman spoke of the “choice” women in her situation faced back then in Pennsylvania: between a dangerous, illegal, back-alley abortion… or seeking approval from an all-male panel of doctors for a “therapeutic” hospital abortion. She described the humiliation she was subjected to under multiple interrogations… how they pried into every aspect of her private life to determine if she was “unfit” to bear the child. And she spoke of the ultimate degradation… how she was required by law to obtain the signed permission of the husband who had abandoned her and her children.
Of course, she went on to talk about the history and future of the reproductive rights movement, and the political imperative we are facing today, with a conservative Supreme Court prepared to eviscerate the right to privacy… and one vote away from overturning Roe v. Wade entirely. So I urge you all to read her book — With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose — and to listen to her entire talk when it is eventually broadcast on KUOW.
But Michelman told one other anecdote which I believe is very relevant to voters here in Washington state today.
She talked about how angry she was when it became apparent that the strongly anti-choice Bob Casey Jr. would be the Democratic candidate to challenge Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, and how many friends and colleagues urged her to run as an independent. She was so angry, that she actually seriously considered running, consulting with her closest political advisors.
But eventually she realized that such a bold stand on her principles couldn’t win her the election… it could only lose it for Casey and the Democrats… and she didn’t want to become Pennsylvania’s Ralph Nader. To run against Casey, she realized, would have been an act of hubris that may have been cathartic, but which the nation simply couldn’t afford.
While Casey’s position on choice is abominable to her — and intractable — she understood that there are other issues, even on reproductive rights, where she could work with Casey. And of course, there are many issues unrelated to her cause on which Casey is downright progressive. In the end she decided that Democratic control of the Senate — and thus control of both the agenda and the confirmation process — was more important than where Casey stood on this single issue… even an issue to which Michelman herself has passionately and tirelessly devoted most of her adult life.
That is a lesson in maturity and pragmatism from which some of the loudest members of the anti-war camp could learn.
Sen. Maria Cantwell voted for authorizing the Iraq war, a vote she cannot take back, and for which she is unlikely to apologize. In a guest column today in the Seattle Times, Sen. Cantwell calls 2006 “a year in transition,” a year in which the Iraqi government must take control and we start to bring our troops home. But we all know that’s not enough to silence most of her anti-war critics… what they want is a public mea culpa, a call for an immediate withdrawal, and a fierce denunciation of the Bush administration lies, policies, and incompetence. And even that won’t mollify many on the angry left.
Yes, there are some on the left who feel it is more important to “send a message” to Cantwell and the Democrats than it is to win the Democratic majority necessary to change our nation’s course. These purists… these living, breathing examples of the aphorism the perfect is the enemy of the good… claim to be standing on principle. But I think Michelman would recognize it as good ol’ fashioned hubris.
For her part, Michelman is in Seattle today campaigning for Sen. Cantwell, not only because the Senator is a strong supporter of reproductive rights and liberties, but because Michelman knows that the only way to protect these rights, along with the broader right to privacy, is for Democrats to seize control of the Senate’s judicial confirmation process.
My only hope is that come November, all my fellow progressives can bring themselves to act as strategically and pragmatically as Kate Michelman.