In many ways it could be said Kate Michelman chose to battle pro-lifers rather than confront private sorrow. Ms. Michelman-who announced last week she would leave her abortion advocacy organization next spring-entered the abortion world in 1970 when her husband left her and her three daughters to a world of want.
At the time the future National Abortion Rights Action League leader was a part-time employee of the Easter Seals Society. Growing up in Camden, N.J., she had always dreamed of having six babies. During a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, Ms. Michelman admitted that abortion challenged every moral and religious ideal she held.
Expecting a fourth child in 1970-four years before Roe vs. Wade-she faced a Western Pennsylvania hospital review board to petition for an abortion. And after garnering her ex-husband's signature, she secured the blessing of the hospital and aborted her fourth child. After the act, she felt worthless and violated, she told the Senate committee.
She told Knight-Ridder in 1986 that her abortion was "the most moral decision I ever made," but at other times she tells how she lived in guilt until the 1973 landmark decision. In a 1998 speech to the Commonwealth Club of California, she described the Roe ruling as the benediction of a retroactive reprieve.
Ms. Michelman said she was leaving the helm of NARAL after 18 years to focus on electing a Democrat president and to help care for her ailing husband.
Ms. Michelman has long been a political activist. While completing her undergraduate and master's degrees at the University of Michigan, she marched in Selma, Ala., for civil rights and also in Ann Arbor, Mich., for an end to the Vietnam War. In 1974 she remarried and moved to Gettysburg, Pa. From 1980 until she took over at NARAL in 1986, she directed a Planned Parenthood branch in Harrisburg, Pa.