Sue Ellen Browder has worked as a journalist for more than 40 years, writing for several decades for Cosmopolitan and other women’s magazines. Her articles from that period were calculated to “soft sell” the Cosmo lifestyle and all that it entailed—including casual sex, contraception, and abortion. Her new book Subverted (Ignatius Press) tells the story of how the women’s movement—which in the beginning was primarily concerned about equal rights and opportunities for women, and mothers in particular—was hijacked by the sexual revolution and how abortion became enshrined as the movement’s primary political issue.
Browder will be on the stage at the rally kicking off the 2016 March for Life in Washington, DC on January 22, speaking on “Why the Pro-Life Movement is the Authentic Women’s Movement of the 21st Century.”
She recently corresponded with CWR about her book, her perspective on pro-abortion politics as someone who witnessed firsthand their fusing with the women’s movement, and the hope she sees for a pro-life future in the United States.
CWR: Why did you write Subverted?
Sue Ellen Browder: We can’t correct the errors of the past until we know the errors of the past. This book tells for the first time how two men used some very crafty propaganda to convince women’s movement founder Betty Friedan to insert abortion and contraception into the women’s movement “Bill of Rights.” They convinced her she wouldn’t be able to achieve equity—not equality, equity—for women in education and the workplace if she didn’t include abortion in her package of political demands.
The women’s movement in the beginning was very united around issues of equal access to education and opportunities in the work force. Abortion split the women’s movement in two. The pro-life movement has not declared a “war on women.” The pro-life movement represents an authentic branch of feminism that walked out the door the very night abortion was inserted into the women’s movement by a mere 57 people under some very diabolic influences.
CWR: Why has this story been buried for nearly 50 years?
Browder: It’s been reported here and there in bits and pieces. But it’s never been pulled together in one place before. This book, Subverted, is the first time anyone has told the whole story.
Early suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were adamantly prolife. Alice Paul, mother of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, called abortion “the ultimate exploitation of women.” Although Betty Friedan eventually did succumb to abortion’s siren song, she didn’t even mention abortion in 1963 when she launched second wave feminism with The Feminine Mystique.
Having once been fired for being pregnant, Friedan wrote in 2000, “Ideologically, I was never for abortion. Motherhood is a value to me, and even today abortion is not. … For me, the matter of choice has never been primarily the choice of abortion, but that you can choose to be a mother. That’s as important as any right written into the Constitution.”
CWR: What was the bedrock motivation for the promotion of abortion in the 1960s? And to what degree was it pushed by men who saw it as a means of liberation for themselves rather than by women?
Browder: This is an excellent question, but it can’t be answered simply. As Judge John T. Noonan, Jr., reported in A Private Choice: Abortion in America in the Seventies, the motivations for abortion reformers in the 1960s were extremely complex. Certainly most early abortion reformers were upper-middle-class white males, not women. The lawyers of the ACLU, Noonan observes, “accepted the (my word: propagandistic) rhetoric of the women’s movement; they saw themselves as freedom fighters for women. They viewed abortion as a human good, available to the rich and inexplicably withheld from the poor.” The doctors were variously into abortion-law repeal for the money or for freedom to practice as they wished. The wealthy donors of Planned Parenthood were population planners, convinced that a socially acceptable way to use their wealth was to reduce the numbers of the poor. Some politicians wanted to reduce their welfare rolls, and abortion was a lot cheaper than supporting children for years once they were born. So it was complicated.
CWR: How did the push for abortion in the 1960s flow from the changes brought about by the embrace of the Pill?
Browder: Certainly, the argument was made that abortion was necessary as a “backup” for the Pill, when contraception failed (as it sometimes did). The Pill, when I first began taking it in the 1960s, was promoted to women as failsafe—100 percent effective, if you took it daily. It wasn’t. The failure rates were fairly high for those women who had sex frequently. Now that the abortion/pharmaceutical industries have LARCs (so-called long-acting-reversible contraceptives) in their anti-motherhood arsenal, they’re suddenly admitting the Pill was never as effective as they’ve been telling women it was for the past 50 years.
CWR: Do you see a connection between how abortion has been promoted and pushed for several decades and the current push to change how people understand the sexes and sexual orientation? Put another way, what similarities are there between the pro-abortion movement and what Pope Francis calls “gender ideology”?
Browder: Many journalists ask me that question: they want to link gender issues to abortion. The only link I personally see is that both issues arose from the false joining of the sexual revolution with the women’s movement, which began on November 18, 1967, in the Chinese Room of the Mayflower Hotel, when a mere 57 people voted to insert abortion, contraception, and sex education into the National Organization for Women’s political “Bill of Rights.” There were eight rights in that political platform. Most of them had to do with improving conditions for working mothers. The only divisive “rights”—that is to say, the only two the early NOW members bitterly fought over—were #1 (the demand for the Equal Rights Amendment) and #8 (the demand for complete repeal of abortion laws, along with demands for contraception and sex education). That supposed “right #8” is the only one we’re still fighting over in our nation today. Why? Because it was the only one inserted into the women’s movement through error and deception.
CWR: Subverted is really two stories in one. The second story is a personal memoir.
Browder: Yes. On the one hand, I was a freelance magazine writer working at home with my beloved husband Walter, raising our children, baking homemade breads and chocolate chip cookies. Yet on the other hand, I lived this very glamorous lifestyle. I worked for Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan magazine. I was on The Oprah Show. This story takes readers into rooms they’ve never been in before.
CWR: For decades, you promoted the “Cosmo Girl” lifestyle, including abortion. And yet at this year’s March for Life on January 22, you will speak about “Why the Pro-Life Movement is the Authentic Women’s Movement of the 21st Century.” Why did you switch sides? What happened?
Browder: Well, I woke up. After years of promoting the “Cosmo Girl” lifestyle as a pathway to freedom, I realized the sexual revolution lifestyle is destroying women’s lives, wrecking families, and tearing apart our nation. On some level, I think I always was, at heart, a “pro-life family feminist.” I just didn’t know it.
CWR: You’ve suggested that the rhetoric over abortion in our nation been all wrong.
Browder: Yes. A pregnant mother’s rights and her baby’s rights are not “at war” with each other. A pregnant woman and her baby are a “unity of two.” That phrase was actually given to us by Pope St. John Paul II. The pro-life women’s movement is not just for the baby. The pro-life feminist movement is for the mother and her baby. As human beings, we are all interconnected. Whatever harms the mother harms the baby, whatever harms the baby harms the mother, and whatever harms either of them harms us all.
CWR: Is it too late to turn back the clock?
Browder: Yes. Since Roe, more than 54 million Americans have died through abortion. We can’t change that. But we can move forward toward a new day when no mother feels compelled to abort her baby and all mothers and babies are cherished and supported.
On January 22, on the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, pro-life family feminists in the March for Life will once again descend upon Washington, hundreds of thousands strong.
The pro-life movement is not some little “conservative backlash” against “real” feminism, as the media so often imply. Pro-life feminism began in the 19th century, continued through the 20th century, and is still here today, a vast army of love marching in the streets to make its voices heard.
Pro-life family feminists plainly see abortion for what it truly is: the debasement and betrayal of women. They know a mother and her baby are not separate, totally independent individuals whose rights are “at war” with each other.
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