Betty Friedan and the abortion movement

Betty Friedan organised the National Organization for Women , but was struggling to contain internal dissension from Trotskyites and radical lesbian factions.
  • In 1967, two men were the driving force to repeal all abortion laws in the United States.
  • In order to win the fight to repeal abortion laws they had to recruit the feminists.
  • Both Nathanson and Lader persuaded Friedan (and NOW) that abortion was both a feminist and a civil rights issue.
  • Friedan became vice-president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).
  • Under her maiden name, Betty Goldstein was a member of the Young Communist League at Berkeley
Betty Friedan launched the modern feminist movement in 1963. Her book The Feminine Mystique went on to sell over five million copies.

She played an influential role in linking abortion rights with women's liberation. It was only in 2000, that new information came to light about her revolutionary background.

In 1967, two men were the driving force to repeal all abortion laws in the United States. They were Lawrence Lader, who provided the ideological and political brains, and Dr Bernard Nathanson, the campaigning obstetrician and gynaecologist.

Looking around for allies, Lader told Nathanson: "If we're going to move abortion out of the books and into the streets, we're going to have to recruit the feminists. Friedan has got to put her troops into this thing - while she still has control over them."

Nathanson commented that Lader's marriage of abortion with the aspirations and activism of the feminist movement, was a brilliant tactic.
Betty Friedan had organised the National Organization for Women the year before, but was struggling to contain internal dissension from Trotskyites and radical lesbian factions. Nathanson commented that Lader's marriage of abortion with the aspirations and activism of the feminist movement, was a brilliant tactic.

Betty Friedan became vice-president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), which placed her in the driving seat for abortion law reform.

She brought formidable personal and organisational skills to the campaign. Just where she acquired that experience was revealed in 2000, by David Horowitz, a former 1960's radical activist.

In his article "Feminism's Dirtiest Secret", Horowitz relates how Professor Daniel Horowitz (no relation) of Smith College had written a sympathetic biography "Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminist Mystique". She had withdrawn her cooperation on discovering that Prof Horowitz would reveal her earlier political history from her papers at Smith College.

Betty Friedan's fame rested on her transformation from disillusioned suburban housewife to feisty leader of women's liberation.

However, as Prof Horowitz revealed, under her maiden name, Betty Goldstein was a member of the Young Communist League at Berkeley (1942-43). From 1946 to 1952, she worked as a journalist for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, "the largest Communist-led institution of any kind in the USA".

Take this quote from Frederick Engel's famous 1884 essay, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State:
"The emancipation of women becomes possible only when women are enabled to take part in production on a large, social scale, and when domestic duties require their attention only to a minor degree."
Engel was saying that equality of the sexes would only happen when women abandoned their homes and become worker-drones.

Friedan copied that sentence into her notes sometime around 1959, while she was doing her research for The Feminine Mystique (p. 201).

That revolutionary passage would become the inspiration and guiding principle for Friedan's book, and eventually for the entire feminist movement.

Her former husband Carl Friedan, acknowledged that he supported her full-time writing and research. She had a maid, lived in a Hudson River mansion and performed very few household duties, because of the demands of her political activity.

Betty Friedan did not mention abortion in the early version of The Feminine Mystique. It was Lawrence Lader, co-founder of NARAL, who convinced her that all feminist work-based demands depended on a woman's ability to control her own body and fertility. Both Nathanson and Lader persuaded Friedan (and NOW) that abortion was a civil rights issue.