Monday, September 22, 2003

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America for 18 years, said yesterday she will step down next spring to care for her ailing husband.

She also plans to spend the next year working to defeat President Bush’s re-election bid because of his stance against abortion rights.

“I made the decision to step down from the day-to-day work of running a large national organization so that I could both meet those family responsibilities and devote myself actively to the most urgent priority facing the pro-choice movement — electing a president who will protect our right to choose,” Mrs. Michelman said yesterday.

“The next four years will almost certainly see at least two Supreme Court vacancies,” Mrs. Michelman said. “If George W. Bush is allowed to fill those seats, it will mean the end of reproductive privacy and the end of Roe v. Wade. I intend to do everything I can to see that does not happen.”

Roe v. Wade was the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that led to nationwide legalization of abortion. Mrs. Michelman is credited with coining the question that now defines the pro-choice movement: “Who decides? Politicians or women themselves?”

The Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, president and chief executive of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, praised Mrs. Michelman’s dedication to abortion-rights advocacy.

“Kate has done everything in her power to make sure no other woman goes through what she went through as a young mother of three who, abandoned by her husband, finds she is pregnant and without resources,” said Mr. Veazey. “She has been fearless in telling her story and fighting for what she knows is right.”

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, noted that many of Mrs. Michelman’s priorities, including opposition to a ban on so-called partial-birth abortion, are being rejected by increasing numbers of Americans and lawmakers.

However, he said, “on a positive note, we can express complete agreement with one statement Kate Michelman made” in a 1994 interview, which was that “abortion is a bad thing.”

Last week, the Senate voted to send a bill to ban partial-birth abortion to a conference with House members. It is widely expected that a bill will be sent to the White House for Mr. Bush’s signature.

Yesterday, Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt issued statements commending Mrs. Michelman for her persistence, principle and courage.

“All who believe in the [pro-choice] cause must now fight harder than ever because women’s privacy and reproductive freedom are under direct threat from this administration and the courts they seek to stack,” said Mr. Lieberman.

Mrs. Michelman said she plans to leave her post after NARAL Pro-Choice America’s April 25 march in Washington.

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