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Personal crossroad was path to activism
Seattle Times staff reporter
Kate Michelman was a mother of three when she found out she was pregnant. Her husband had just walked out on her. She swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. And then she determined she had just one option: to have an abortion. This was in 1969, three years before Roe v. Wade.
Michelman, 63, tells her story in her new memoir, "With Liberty and Justice For All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose." She writes about how she needed both her husband's consent and the approval of an all-male hospital board to have the abortion. She writes about how that abortion helped propel her toward a lifetime of activism. Michelman served 19 years as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Interviewed last week from her Washington, D.C., office Michelman talked about abortion rights past and future.
On her role in the pro-choice movement: "I think women identify with me. I'm a mother. A wife [she remarried in 1972]. I'm an activist. I'm a grandmother.
"I talk about my life, of being a homemaker, a mom, of having to go onto welfare and to struggle hard to support my family. I have a lot of experiences that women can relate to."
On the ever-raging debate: "I really believed there could be a uniting around a common goal of making abortion less necessary, through aggressive attention to family planning, access to birth control, sex education, improvement to health-care access, child-care policies.
"Even if we might disagree on abortion, we could agree on the supports necessary for women and men to avoid pregnancy that they did not intend. I thought we could unite around that. I found we could not."
Kate Michelman, NARAL Pro-Choice America's former president and author of "With Liberty And Justice For All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose," 7:30 tonight at Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle (downstairs; enter on Seneca Street). Tickets are $5 at the door. Presented with Elliott Bay Book Co.
On the difference between "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion": "There are people who define themselves as pro-abortion, but I don't know many. Pro-choice is pro-life, pro-family, pro-children.
"We often get criticized for having little concern for terminating life. I've never once not talked about my own decision to have an abortion. I've always talked about the responsibility I felt for the developing life within me. I also had three little girls who depended solely on me. I had to make a decision for my family's future."
Years passed before she told her parents, both devout Catholics, about her abortion: "They never said it, but I knew they accepted it. By their body language, I knew they understood. They never said, 'You did the right thing.' But I knew they believed, on a profound level, that they could understand why I couldn't have had another child at that time. I could have, but it would have turned a crisis into a catastrophe."
On morality: "It's a moral principle to respect the dignity of women and to respect the moral integrity of women. Privacy really speaks to the dignity of individuals, whether it's the privacy of financial records or medical decisions. And for women, reproductive privacy is essential. When we are stripped of that, we are stripped of our dignity. And that's a moral principle."
On what she calls the "forces of extremism" threatening to overturn Roe: "The real power in our nation resides in the collective participation of individuals. I don't say that tritely or Pollyannishly. I believe in it.
"I think investing in the totality of women's lives and investing in the conditions that foster the well-being of women is an investment in the health of the nation.
"I think for women, the movement of today needs to be a movement about the future. Not just built on fear about losing the right to choose, but also built on what is the future for women in this country."
Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company