by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

When I first heard that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts had fallen over the weekend, I was glad. Just for a fleeting moment. Then I was appalled by my response. After all, some people I know very well have done some pretty nasty stuff to me and to those I love, and I never wished any of them harm. Where was my anger coming from?

I feel let down by our government and a system that would put in place a court that could legislate that a woman ought to die because of pregnancy. That’s what some say, you know. The life of the mother is not to be taken into account. The fetus is more valuable than the woman. The rape victim’s future is less important than the life of a rapist’s child (read the latest from Ohio).

And why are these guys entitled to make decisions for her? Because somebody’s operative in Florida a number of years ago was wilier than somebody else’s. 

OK, so now I shouldn’t feel quite so bad about myself — in fact, I must be in good company, since I’m thinking like those guys in power. Anybody who doesn’t think like me, toodle-oo! Sure, let’s just send surges of our children to foreign lands where they kill innocents and are, in turn, killed or maimed and forgotten, whether dead or alive. Yeah, see. I’m in good company.

Nope. Not working. I still feel bad. Certainly no mature woman would react this way. I mulled over this spitfire I had become.

Which led me to remember another first for me. Fifteen years ago, in 1992, Operation Rescue threatened to stage the "biggest events in the history of the rescue movement" in New York City. Their planned offensive against our city’s women’s health care facilities inspired the formation of the New York Clinic Defense Task Force.

I volunteered. Over several weeks, an army of (mostly) women was trained to peaceably put our bodies in the way of a highly organized group whose purpose was the stop women from getting abortions and any other form of support — no information about pregnancy prevention, no forms of birth control, no pre-natal care — from clinics that provided women’s health services.

I joined up, received training and trained others, and worked my way up from a foot soldier to a leader, walking beside Ellie Smeal and Kathy Spillar and other venerated and new feminists.

I was entrusted with the great symbol of power in that era: a walkie-talkie. We led our troops all over the city, locked arms, created walls of safe passage for women who needed to get into the clinics, and we vanquished Operation Rescue.

A quiet, only child who hated camp and group activities, I became, for that short time, a warrior defending the rights of strangers. It’s a moment I’m proud of, unlike my visceral reaction to the chief justice’s well-being.

The lesson learned is that dark thoughts can cross our minds, but we must act on the bright ideas. Let’s put ourselves out there in this next campaign to elect leaders who have done and will do the same. Let’s stamp out violence, not feed it. Let’s strive to find the grace to rescue us, really rescue us, from this mess. 

There. I’m over it. But I’m not sending Roberts a get well card.

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  • Sarah August 5, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    This is just so beautifully written and frank that it invites precisely the kind of discourse rational and good people should be having.
    Brava for Elizabeth!!!

  • Carolyn Hahn August 3, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Lithwick article was interesting. I am sure all of us know women who have had an abortion. Some of us have had them. Some of us have several of them.
    Just as a completely impromptu survey — and we know women talk about everything, at least with each other: how many people know someobody who JUST CAN’T GET OVER AN ABORTION? Me, personally, with nearly 5 decades on the planet? 20 years ago, a (then born-again) friend of mine who had three in college, on my advice, and who now has 5 wonderful children, was pissed at me for the advice, which I still think was valid (she was in college, I wanted her to have a life). She is no longer, from what I can tell, pissed at me. My own “regrets”? That I was overwhelmed at enough things & not ready to be a single parent. I hope I’ve redeemed myself by being a good family member, a good friend, a good wife, a good — but why do I have to do this? I don’t owe anybody, including Roberts an explanation. HIS nuttiness may involve a deeper sadness, mine just gets on with life. I wish I could have been the right person to be a parent. I wasn’t. And lest Roberts condemn me to hell, I probably spent more time in weekly prayer group at the Episcopal Church grappling with these issues (5 years) than he did, but I would have slept OK had I not.

  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger August 3, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks for pointing me to Dahlia Lithwick’s commentary. She points out that Justice (ha!) Kennedy expresses enormous empathy for women who regret having had an abortion. I have regrets about a lot of things, including not more actively working on the hanging chad issue in Florida — no matter what that would have entailed. But I don’t think any of us need his warped caretaking, which is making us the cover for his point of view, to get us through our lives. Wish he’d have the opportunity to write an opinion about mass murders by our government in other people’s motherlands. We’ve got a lot of work to do!

  • Karen August 3, 2007 at 11:31 am

    The problem is the paternalistic view they hold toward women, which presumably includes their own family members. See Kennedy’s comments in the Carhart decision. There was a great commentary on this by Dahlia Lithwick.

  • Carolyn Hahn August 2, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    God, Eric, you’re so right. But you would think they would have women in their lives — wives, mothers, daughters, others to give counter balance to their tidy theories of how the world works — ho hum, nine months of carrying an unwanted baby — NOT MY PROBLEM AND NEVER WILL BE! What is so weird to me is that the Republicans, one would think, would be the last party involved in such an intrusive foray into [women’s] private lives, but apparently not. So, OK, it’ll be five or six men with ever less of a clue and hopefully their wives and daughters, when they really think what bills like this would do to them, will vote against it/them.

  • eric August 2, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    I have to admit that my initial reaction when I heard about Roberts was also lacking in empathy. But that may be the problem of this Supreme Court: the inability of the five conservative members to have empathy for people unlike themselves such as women. It is a canard to believe that the justices only consider the law and the facts in their deliberations and decisions. On the conrary, their entire life’s experiences come into play. Unfortunately,with this Court the only relevant experiences are those of white, middle aged Catholic men.

  • Carolyn Hahn August 1, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Elizabeth, thanks for this, and for the infuriating link from Ohio. I, Ms Safely Menopausal, felt my skin crawling at the thought of being some kind of puppy mill for the as-yet-unfound male before being allowed the right to an abortion. “Abortion fraud”-women or medical personnel who get or do the procedure without finding out and (((getting written permission from the father)))!
    I am sorry to say that when Elizabeth was taking action to protect my rights, I was young (20’s) and assumed abortion was a right — generational thing and stupid, in retrospect — we took it as a given!!! Even now, until I just read that disgusting, intrusive thing (women would have to get written permission from the father before getting an abortion), I have been in denial.
    Weirdly, we just had a little news item here in NY about an apparently crazy 26 year old who lured her father to her apartment in Far Rockaway, strangled him, and, it’s rumored, cut off his penis. Crazy, right? Yet first her lawyer and then her sister said the father had sexually abused them both from toddlerhood. The sister, in tears, said “I hope my sister gets the help she needs and has needed for so long, ” and said how unbearably painful it had been for both of them to have been abused for so long — “sometimes monthly, sometimes weekly, sometimes daily, with a few breaks — it’s unwanted sex. With your father.”
    This bill would make a woman produce a police report to prove that pregnancy was a result of rape or incest–nice touch! Women must make that humiliating stuff up right and left! And this young woman was 26 before she finally snapped and killed dad. The family would have really been helped had she filed a police report on him when even younger and more vulnerable. Having a bill like this in place would do so much toward assuring the sanctity of life at all costs! Or, as the sister said, it was amazing she didn’t lose her mind before, given the pressure she was under. This law will really help that.

  • JoAnne August 1, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    It’s ironic that the men in government who are so callous about sending teenagers off to war are the very same men who pride themselves on being “pro-life.” Great piece.