"The abortion issue followed me to Europe.
There were questions in England and the Italians were in the midst of their own volatile parliamentary debate on the issue.
The latent suspicion of my [Roman] Catholicism again surfaced in Rome.
Immediately after my audience with Pope Paul VI, several reporters called at the Hassler Hotel to see if the Pope talked to me about abortion.
He had not mentioned the issue. His focus was on the failure of the food-rich nations such as the United States to feed the world."
From .......... GOVERNING AMERICA - An Insider's Report
From the White House and the Cabinet
By Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
79 ............... ABORTION
The crowd was so large and noisy, I could hear it clearly when I entered the law school around the block from the demonstrators. As I reached the back entrance, ACLU Chairman Norman Dorsen, a friend of twenty-five years, greeted me with a broad smile on his face.
''It took Califano to bring the sixties back to NYU,''
he cracked. We all chuckled at that welcome, which broke the tension for the next few minutes.
When Dorsen, who was to moderate the question and answer period, Sawhill, and I entered the auditorium, my right arm and hand were in a cast, held by a sling, due to an operation on my thumb the week before. The auditorium was crushingly overcrowded. Every seat was taken; every inch of wall space lined with standees. The antagonism of the audience was so penetrating I could physically feel it as I sat on the elevated stage. Even the cast on my arm will evoke no sympathy here, I thought. Sawhill spoke first about me. He then turned to give me the medal. As I rose to receive it, the last row of the audience unfurled a huge pro-abortion banner across the back of the auditorium. Fully half the audience stood and held up hangers, many with ends that had been dipped in red nail polish. When the medal was presented, at least a hundred people in the audience turned their backs to me. Many of them remained in that position throughout the entire ninety minutes of my speech and the question and answer session that followed.
The question period was largely devoted to abortion, with many emotional statements and speeches. None, however, struck me more forcefully than that of an intense woman who picked up on a comment I had made earlier that year. On the Sunday, March 20, NBC program Meet the Press, Carol Simpson had queried me at length on abortion and the adequacy of the administration program for alternatives to abortion. In the course of one extended response, I observed:
"I have never known a woman who wanted an abortion or who was happy about having an abortion. I think it is our role to provide for those women the best we can in terms of family planning services, of day care centers for their children, of health, and prenatal services to make sure children are born healthy, and all the decent things in life that every child in this country deserves, whether it is health care or a clean home or a decent schooling, and we will do our best to do that."
To my left, about halfway down the aisle in the NYU auditorium, a woman rose to the microphone. Her head was tilted sideways, her eyes spilled over with anger, even hatred.
"Look at me, Mr. Califano," she shouted with defiant emotion. "I want you to see a woman who wanted an abortion. I want you to see a woman who was happy at having an abortion. I want you to see a woman who had an abortion two weeks ago and who intends to have another abortion."
80 ................ GOVERNING AMERICA
The room fell into total silence as the tone of her voice became that kind of gripping whisper everyone can hear even when they don't want to:
"I want you to go back to Washington knowing that there are women who are happy who have had abortions, knowing that there are women who want abortions. I don't ever want you to make a statement like the one you made saying that you have never known a woman that wanted to have an abortion or never known a woman who was happy about having an abortion. You have now met one.''
So draining was the emotional experience at NYU, that afterward, when I got into the car to Kennedy Airport to depart for England, Germany, and Italy to look at national health programs Ñ my first trip abroad as Secretary of HEW Ñ I instantly fell asleep and did not wake up until the driver shook me to say we had arrived at Kennedy.
The abortion issue followed me to Europe. There were questions in England and the Italians were in the midst of their own volatile parliamentary debate on the issue. The latent suspicion of my Catholicism again surfaced in Rome. Immediately after my audience with Pope Paul VI, several reporters called at the Hassler Hotel to see if the Pope talked to me about abortion. He had not mentioned the issue. His focus was on the failure of the food-rich nations such as the United States to feed the world.
I returned to Washington on Thanksgiving eve. I knew the abortion issue would erupt again when the latest Continuing Resolution expired. But I was not prepared for the news the Washington Post brought me on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Connie Downey, chairperson of an HEW group on alternatives to abortion, had written a memo expressing her views to her boss, Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation Henry Aaron. The Post headlined the most sensational portion of an otherwise typical HEW memo:
TASK FORCE HEAD LISTS SUICIDE, MOTHERHOOD, AND MADNESS: ABORTION ALTERNATIVES CITED IN HEW MEMO.
The memo, written more than four months earlier on July 18, contained this paragraph:
"Abortion is but one alternative solution to many of the problems ..... which may make a pregnancy unwise or unwanted .... It is an option, uniquely, which is exercised between conception and live birth. As such, the literal alternatives to it are suicide, motherhood, and, some would add, madness....''
The memo had never reached me, but its leak provided a dramatic reminder of the potential for turmoil within HEW and raised the curtain on the final act between the House and the Senate on the fiscal 1978 HEW appropriations bill.
- END QUOTE -
GOVERNING AMERICA- An Insider's Report
From the White House and the Cabinet
By Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
Published by Simon and Schuster 1981