Rounding Up The Pro-Choice Troops: When We Started Fighting Back


The following is an edited excerpt of the book, “Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion From the Back Alley to the Board Room,” to be released in January 2012.

“Where are your troops, Hoffman?” an Operation Rescue activist asked me on yet another rainy, cold morning of protesting on the streets of New York in 1989.

I turned to face my questioner. Middle-aged, white, male, polyester suit, fetal feet button—in all, a good soldier of the Lord.

“Where are your troops?”

I looked past him to our small band of about fifty feminist activists, chanting and intense; beyond the five hundred or so kneeling, praying “rescuers”; past the police, the press, the passersby, and thought about his question. Where were my troops? We appeared sadly outnumbered. Compared to the antis, we always were.

My questioner had verbalized one of my private intellectual dialogues. But it was really not so private after all. The question of just where the feminist movement was now, where the feminist movement was going, whether the feminist movement was alive or dead, had become a popular issue around which media, politicians, and anyone who felt like it could instantly pontificate.

That anti-choice man’s question helped clarify what I already knew that day. Looking through his eyes, people might have agreed that the right wing was winning. It was an illusion. Yes, we were outnumbered on the streets, and that could be frustrating. But a mass mobilization of sorts was occurring. The historic bifurcation between abortion providers and political activists had finally begun to dissolve, and a powerful new alliance was beginning to form. Participation in direct action against Operation Rescue at clinic sites put ideological feminists face to face with the reality of abortion. Over one million women each year were having legal abortions at clinics across the country, and they each risked harassment, violence, and restrictive, even dangerous, regulations in upcoming Supreme Court cases. Providers were now at the forefront of the abortion rights struggle, and patients themselves, in the midst of the most personal and intimate of decisions and life events, were thrust into a vortex of politics and passion.

We had always had plenty of troops in this battle. They were everywhere, and they were far from outnumbered. They just had to be activated.

I decided it was time to make a statement that could not be ignored or manipulated by the media, Reagan, or Operation Rescue. We would deliver a message to the cardinal of New York, John J. O’Connor—a proclamation, a Bill of Rights on abortion.

The Pro-Choice Coalition quietly spread the word to gather across the street from the cathedral on the morning of Sunday, April 2. We gave no further instructions for fear that Operation Rescue would get wind of the plan and stage an opposing action.

I was very careful not to organize the protest at the time of Mass; we would begin just as the service ended.

When the day arrived, everything was in place. As people began pouring forth from the cathedral, pro-choice activists marched across the street to the concrete steps. Mary Lou Greenberg and Maria Lyons stood in front of the massive bronze doors and unfurled a proclamation:

On behalf of the women of New York City and their sisters throughout this country and out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light.

We stand here today to affirm the following to Cardinal John J. O’Connor who has blessed, praised, and hosted the anti-abortion fanatics of “Operation Rescue”:

That you have consistently turned a deaf ear and a cold heart to women by repeatedly ignoring urgent requests to meet with us about the terrorism and violence towards women that “Operation Rescue” represents.

That you have added to the atmosphere of fear, terror, and anxiety that women must face when attempting to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion.

That you have encouraged the fanaticism and women-hating that feeds the politics of “Operation Rescue.”

Now, therefore, we stand here not as beggars at your gate but as people of conscience to affirm that:

1. Women are full moral agents with the right and ability to choose when and whether or not they will be mothers.

2. Abortion is a choice made by each individual for profound personal reasons that no man nor state should judge.

3. The right to make reproductive choices is women’s legacy throughout history and belongs to every woman regardless of age, class, race, religion, or sexual preference.

4. Abortion is a life-affirming act chosen within the context of women’s realities, women’s lives, and women’s sexuality.

5. Abortion is often the most moral choice in a world that frequently denies health care, housing, education, and economic survival.

Cheering exuberantly and waving coat hangers, hundreds of pro-choice supporters who had been waiting across the street surged to the steps of the cathedral. They began chanting slogans in support of our proclamation.

I made my way up the church steps with the six-foot hanger I had commissioned for the occasion. It was a symbol of potential terror and aggression against all women, but it was also the symbol of our future. And taking my place in front of the doors to the cathedral, I knew that it was also the ultimate symbol of both defiance and gentle desecration.

As I lifted the hanger above my head, the crowed throbbed and screamed with new energy. Police officers showed up on the scene, pushed our people back across the street, and arrested nine activists for trespassing on church property, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. The first pro-choice disobedience action in history. We marched after them with Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union to the precinct to rescue our activists.

The media could not ignore this one.

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  • elizabeth-d

    I don’t get it. I mean, I do (I used to be pro-choice), but I don’t. As a Catholic, my natural reaction is compassionate concern, they are threatening that they or others will do gruesome harm to themselves and their babies even if they are denied legal abortion. Angry people waving coat hangers, that is not loving, there is no good cause they are standing up for, you just feel sad for them, you pray for them, you do what you can to help mothers and families so pregnant women need never feel that despair “it’s the end of the world, I must abort my child or die trying.” I used to be strongly “pro-choice” and I greatly regret so much that I said and did then. Now I feel like we need to come together to give hope, to give help, to welcome children and support moms and relieve their fears.

  • elizabeth-d

    I don’t get it. I mean, I do (I used to be pro-choice), but I don’t. As a Catholic, my natural reaction is compassionate concern, they are threatening that they or others will do gruesome harm to themselves and their babies even if they are denied legal abortion. Angry people waving coat hangers, that is not loving, there is no good cause they are standing up for, you just feel sad for them, you pray for them, you do what you can to help mothers and families so pregnant women need never feel that despair “it’s the end of the world, I must abort my child or die trying.” I used to be strongly “pro-choice” and I greatly regret so much that I said and did then. Now I feel like we need to come together to give hope, to give help, to welcome children and support moms and relieve their fears.

  • ahunt

    I don’t get it. I mean, I do (I used to be pro-choice), but I don’t. As a Catholic, my natural reaction is compassionate concern, they are threatening that they or others will do gruesome harm to themselves and their babies even if they are denied legal abortion

    Place X where appropriate.

     

    A) Regret MY Abortion __

    B) MY Religious Conversion __

    C) I need attention. __

    D) MY Other ___

    Please Be Specific:

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

  • elizabeth-d

    Used to be very, very, very confused about what is love and compassion, in other words I used to be a political progressive (I regret Daily Kos!). One day I began to wake up and realized it was basically a competing religion, and you can’t really be a Christian and think abortion or contraception is okay (or fornication, homosexual behavior etc).

     

    Imagine it for a minute, practicing sexual abstinence or else married openness to life, loving your child from the moment he/she is conceived. I honestly do not think it ever occurred to me back then. Now I think, that is awesome!

     

    P.S. Sorry for the double post of my last comment!

  • jennifer-starr

    You know what I really, really hate about the  ’Oh I used to be just like you until I saw the light/repented/found God/joined the 700 Club’ approach? 

    And it’s not just the blatant insincerity and the underlying smarminess.  It’s the oh-so-smug assumptions that you seem to be making about our character and  morals without even knowing us.  Frankly, Elizabeth–if this is your idea of compassion you can keep it.

  • ahunt

    …just cannot engage…

     

    Good luck as you go forward in this life, Elizabeth.

  • crowepps

    It’s amazing how many people become passionate about fighting sexual sins after they get too old to commit them anymore.

  • ahunt

    But I’m sure the repentance is sincere, Crowepps.

  • elizabeth-d

    I turned away from my sins 6 years ago. I love chastity, actually!

  • elizabeth-d

    Click my name to view my profile and see what I look like, I uploaded my picture when I joined. I am 33. I realized that the unchaste messed up behavior I saw around me, and that I myself was guilty of, is not love.

  • colleen

    And it’s not just the blatant insincerity and the underlying smarminess.  It’s the oh-so-smug assumptions that you seem to be making about our character and  morals without even knowing us.

    For me it’s the spiritual shallowness and reflexive dishonesty. They seem to think that using words like “compassion” and “love” while advocating just the opposite is going to fool someone. The only people who are fooled are the ‘pro-life’ zealots she is trying to impress.

  • freetobe

    I have been sexually abstinent for 13 years going for life. Oh yes and guess what I am pro-choice as ever and am an ex-catholic and very proud of the fact that I am not promoting pedophilia and mysogyny of the worst kind. i suggest you get help for your affliction of the catholic church the “fathers” are not your father they are just mere mortal men and the pope is not any holier than my pets in fact my pets are probalby holier.

    Religion ruined my life until I left it. yep celibate now by choice,don’t drink either, don’t do drugs and I treat others with respct as much as i can humanly possible. I also don’t lie, cheat or steal. How many of you so call holier than thou’s out there can say that? Oh forgot -I feed the poor am not biggoted and stay out of others buisiness because well all christians must know that Jesus was all about CHOICE right? I am pro-choice, used to be anti-choice until life convinced me that was insanity!

  • elizabeth-d

    Dear Freetobe, you will always be Catholic and you will always be loved by God who longs for your return. The Church is Christ’s Body and Bride, and although you and I sin, the Church of which we have the great dignity of being members is holy and we personally are called to holiness. It is well known to all that there are many Catholics who although they are bodily in the Church do not embrace or live her teachings and are spiritually outside, and some others who are bodily away from the Church but there is a lot of good to be said of their lives. I love the Catholic Church and her message of life and love and the dignity of every human person, and like many others, by the grace of God I pray and I stumblingly try to live that truth, beauty and good that is far greater than myself. I pray for your happiness and your true good! You can always come home.