A prominent conservative, female attorney in Washington is ruffling feathers in the modern women’s movement by suggesting victory has been achieved on the issues that drove activism in the first place, but she says abortion activists have since hijacked the movement and any dissent is considered treasonous.
In a recent column for the the New York Times, Cleta Mitchell says the original women’s movement was not about abortion but about giving men and women a level playing field.
“[Abortion] wasn’t the genesis of the women’s movement. It was really to identify laws that treated women and men differently,” said Mitchell, who is a partner in the Washington firm of Foley & Lardner. She has been prominent in many politically-charged cases. Her clients include individuals and groups targeted by the IRS while seeking tax-exempt status.
Mitchell points out that U.S. law evolved from English common law, which inflicted inequities such as not allowing women to inherit property. For many years, the law excluded women from certain professions or precluded them from serving on juries. In the 19th century, women were often not allowed to speak in public. More recent issues focused on equal opportunity and pay.
Mitchell says women should be eager to point out they won all those debates.
“Fortunately, we were successful. Those laws were eradicated. There is no disparate treatment of women under the law in the United States today. Period,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell was active in the women’s movement in the 1970’s, but within a few years, she could see the emphasis changing to embrace abortion.
“I began to see that happening towards the end of the time I was active in the women’s movement, where I began to see that it was morphing at that time into the abortion issue. We were also being confronted with things like gay rights. I didn’t have any interest in those things because I thought that wasn’t what represented most American women and the challenges women faced,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell says that morphing continued until abortion rights became the foundation for the movement.
“The women’s movement refuses to declare victory mainly because it has morphed into a giant lobby for abortion. It’s not within the construct of Roe v. Wade. It is abortion on demand with no restrictions,” said Mitchell.
In addition to the rhetoric, Mitchell says the proof is in who are considered leaders of the women’s movement today.
“Today, that is really Cecille Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood. That’s who they look to as a key leader as well as (avowed communist) Angela Davis. And they bring Gloria Steinem out of mothballs,” said Mitchell, who also denounced the women’s march in January as well as the aggressive speeches from Davis, Madonna and Ashley Judd.
She says the past 45 years have proven a conservative icon 100 percent correct.
“The truth of the matter is Phyllis Schlafly was right. In the final analysis, Phyllis was absolutely right. I’m glad I was able to tell her that many, many times before she died last year. She said that it wasn’t possible to have an Equal Rights Amendment and the women’s movement without it morphing into something we didn’t want to have happen,” said Mitchell.
“Phyllis was right that it was the natural progression that it would be taken over by the left wing, which it was,” said Mitchell.
So instead of empowering all women, Mitchell says abortion quickly became a wedge issue by which liberal women would shun their conservative counterparts.
“I think that conservative, professional women are virtually invisible within the ranks of what would be the women’s movement. If you are a pro-life, conservative professional woman, you’re really a pariah,” said Mitchell, who recounted how women at a conference sponsored in part by her firm turned on her after learning of her legal work on behalf of conservative clients.
“When they found out who my clients were, one of them looked at me and said, ‘Does that mean that you know Tom DeLay?'”
“I said, ‘Yes, I know Tom Delay.’ He was House Majority Leader at the time.”
“They said, ‘Well, you can’t be friends with him.'”
“I said, ‘As a matter of fact I am friends with him and I think he’s a fine legislator and I help him every chance I can.'”
These women just looked at me and instantly turned away. One of them said, ‘What are your views on abortion?'”
“I said, ‘I’m pro-life,’ and they said, ‘How can you be pro-life and pro-woman?’ These women just pounced on me,” said Mitchell.
In some cruel irony, Mitchell says it’s often liberal, pro-choice women who stunt the career growth of women who don’t agree with them politically.
“There is no daylight if you are a pro-life, conservative professional woman. You are not welcome in the ranks of the women who put together networks and events to promote themselves,” said Mitchell.