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The forgotten father of the abortion movement

Abortion, the late Lawrence Lader declared, was “the final freedom” for women. But freedom for what?

Pro-abortion sign held up in front of the Supreme Court in early May 2022. (Image: Gayatri Malhotra/

In the uproar over the leak of an early draft of a Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, the rhetoric of editorialists and commentators friendly to abortion has been short on light but long on heat. Even the conclusion of the New York Times editorial—“If you thought Roe v. Wade itself led to discord and division, just wait until it’s gone”—left you wondering: Is that a prediction or a threat?

At this time of unbridled passions it makes sense to recall T.S. Eliot’s wise saying, “The end is where you start from,” and reflect on what the founders of the abortion movement really saw as ultimate ends. And on that question no source speaks with more authority than Lawrence Lader.

Probably few people today remember Lader, but feminist writer Betty Friedan admiringly declared him “the father of the abortion movement.” Among other things, he wrote the most influential abortion advocacy book before Roe, and his handiwork was cited nine times by the majority opinion in that case. He remained a stalwart of the pro-abortion crusade up to his death in 2006 at the age of 86.

Lader was a journalist who wrote for magazines in the years after World War II. His eleven books included a biography of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and a volume arguing the case for the abortion drug RU-486. As a leader in the abortion movement, he was a co-founder of a group called the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws—now, NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Among the targets of Lader’s zealotry was the Catholic Church. In his book Politics, Power, and the Church he argued that on divorce, school prayer, abortion, and other issues the Church “sought to legalize its moral codes.” In 1988-89 he brought suit against the Internal Revenue Service demanding an end to the Church’s tax-exempt status, but that effort went nowhere.

The high point of his abortion advocacy unquestionably was Abortion. Published by Bobbs-Merrill, the book came out in 1966 shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut overturned an antique Connecticut anti-contraception statute. Griswold was notable for asserting a constitutionally protected right to privacy, something Lader correctly recognized as the pathway to legalized abortion. A followup volume, Abortion II, was even more upfront in acknowledging its author’s radical goals.

So what exactly did Lader have in mind? Let him speak for himself.

Abortion, he declared, was “the final freedom” for women. But freedom for what? Abortion would be “the prime weapon against sexism and the ‘biological imperative’—the prison of unwanted childbearing.” But that wasn’t all. “Once sex had been detached from pregnancy, Women’s Liberation could construct its own ethics on the ash-heap of puritan morality.” And ultimately the “most radical feminist” (and, it would seem, Lawrence Lader himself) “wants an even more sweeping revolt—the end of the nuclear family.”

Worth noting is the tinge of eugenics in Lader’s writing. Usually it’s cloaked in high-sounding language (“every child a wanted child”), but here and there it breaks through, as in this: “Above all, society must grasp the grim relationship between unwanted children and the violent rebellion of minority groups.”

Abortion, eugenics, destroying the nuclear family, stamping out sexual morality, silencing the Catholic Church. These were among the ends pursued by the father of the abortion movement in a long, notably successful, and highly destructive career. If the movement Lawrence Lader launched has disavowed them, I’m sorry to say I missed it.

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About Russell Shaw 253 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. American Catholics who voted for Democrats are responsible for this diabolical holocaust, the vilest, cruelest, most unimaginable cataclysm ever visited on humanity.

    If the numbers of murdered children worldwide over the past half century were viewed as a population, they would be one of the ten most populous countries of the world.

    That’s quite a legacy, American Catholics.

    Vote Democratic.

    Vote death.

  2. Quite a devil. Evident in his hatred of innocent life, the family, and in logical sequence the Mystical Body of Christ. What should we say about what was then radical now the liberal political platform? If that devil died a much more powerful one has assumed the platform from Hell.

  3. “If you thought Role v. Wade itself led to discord and division, just wait until it’s gone.”

    Q: Is that a prediction or a threat?

    A: Both, and a hope – they WANT chaos, they WANT destruction of property and loss of lives.

    • Absolutely, Terence.

      Leftists are minions of the evil one, the prince of disorder, of lies, of hatred, of death.

      And so their objectives are all of the above.

    • It’s telling that arch-leftist Saul Alinsky, in his highly influential manifesto, “Rules For Radicals,” saluted “the first radical… Lucifer.”

      This quote is taken from the opening page of the book, where authors typically give homage to those who have inspired them.

      Alinsky’s high regard for the evil one is open and unabashed.

      And remember that Alinsky remains a source of great inspiration for the leading leftists of our day.

      Hillary Clinton did her thesis on Alinsky’s thought, and Barack Obama taught an entire class on him at the University of Chicago.

      There is an indisputable link between the Democratic Party and the diabolical. You can see it both in the effects of Democratic policies and in the discord Democrats sew between the various constituencies in our nation.

      • Christopher, if you’re replying to my above note about Saul Alinsky, you’re not correct. It was not a pro-abortion message.

        I was saying that the party of abortion, the Democrats, are servants of the devil. And that abortion is a terrible evil.

        Sorry I did not make myself clearer.

  4. Lawrence leader was a key character in the recent Roe vs Wade movie. Eugenics was a passion for Margaret Sanger and Lader. Racism played a key role in the early movement with “clinics” located in minority communities.

  5. Over many decades of experience, I have found that people like Lader have a pathological self loathing due to a rejection or abuse by a parent. They hate themselves and others, and they want everyone else to hate themselves and others. When all the self-haters come together, you get chaos and a perverse form of self-flagellation. That’s abortion. How badly do you have to hate yourself or the father of your child to kill that innocent human being?


    Exorcism as battle for ownership ..thus the real ‘father’ of the movement that wants to be ‘forgotten’ and remain hidden being the father of lies who comes to steal , kill and destroy ..
    Those who advocate for same thus encouraging others to hand over the ownership to that agent and may be unaware that they themselves might have handed themselves too over to him from blaspheming the Holy Spirit …
    The decision by the Archbishop to warn Ms Pelosi – hope most would see same as an act of mercy for her and others , to help turn back hearts in repentance , to ask to belong to The Lord and His Kingdom of holiness and rich relationships .
    The fear that chastity is beyond human will – even in O.T times in which the Holy Spirit graces was not much , those concubines of the kings and all practiced same – the 1,000 wives of Solomon possibly so for 2-3 years may be at a time ..

    St.Joseph , from that line of Solomon , blessed with chastity to be immersed in the joy and the rivers of love in the Holy Family ‘knowing ‘ The Mother of the longed and awaited for Redeemer, thus chosen esp. for the families of our times, he who heroically accepted the trials allowed in the Divine Will ,even in the midst of living with the King and Queen ..

    Thank God that we are blessed with our Holy Father who has recognized the timely need and role of the Saint , being an ardent devotee himself , reminding all of the powerful role of the St , in his talks frequently enough . He very likely has already entrusted the Synodal process too to the saint to touch hearts with the Fatherly Love to thus bless The Church to requite the Father’s Love in The Spirit in ever more hearts thus’know’ to whom each of us belongs to !
    FIAT !

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