Frances “Sissy” Farenthold

Abortion Speech - Sept. 10, 1977

Frances “Sissy” Farenthold
September 10, 1977— San Jose, California
National Women's Political Caucus
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Thank you very much, and Vivian, I do appreciate your efforts because that election to the board of Vassar was the' very last election I won .Before we praise our cohesiveness, our development and our success, let us examine and review where we are on that uniquely personal decision, that most fundamental right of women - the decision as to whether to bear children or not.

You see I no longer have any constituency to worry about. I can remember one July evening in the corridors of the congress when Bella Absug was so upset about a rider that was being attached to a new appropriations bill.

It was the probation on family planning techniques. I don’t remember the details. And I couldn’t really quite understand her great concern. I thought we had Roe vs. Wade. That the Supreme Court had spoken and that that would be the end. But she had the foresight and acumen to understand what was around the corner.

If I may inject a personal note - how we have missed her - all of us - how we have missed her being in the congress this year. And how we have missed her for that might of been in the senate. And all I can say it's not over, Bella, and I trust the time will come when there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and at least we can stand firm and coherent and adamant.

I have come to you today with as great a sense of grievance and injustice as of indignation, with anguish as well as anger over the recent course of events in all three branches of our government as regards the constitutional right to abortion. All three branches need to be examined. The conference committee it is my understanding will convene on Tuesday. And we know, whatever we fight for, what we get out of there won’t be very good.

We know all the anti-abort on emphasis that we have had in the last two years in the House of Representatives, where a variety of measures to limit Roe vs. Wade have been undertaken. And we also know the spill off that we are going to have the state level. We also know that we have a specter facing us in 1978 of the possibility of a U.S. Constitutional convention, there are matters that we that we need to be greatly concerned with.

Well, elective officials are not necessarily courageous people and we understand that. And we understand the argument that if you don’t get elected and reelected, you won't be able to do very much good. So we’ll overlook the congress for the moment.

Let us then go to the executive branch. I can remember standing on a podium in Boston at this very kind of convention and saying we no longer have stars in our eyes over Presidential candidates or national parties. We forget, I am afraid many of us forgot that. We did develop stars in our eyes over our Presidential candidate. And from what I saw of many women at the national convention in '76 we developed stars in our eyes over the Democratic Party.

Now, let's go to that July 13th press conference of President Carter’s. Let us never forget those ringing piestic words on abortion for the poor, and I quote: "as you know there are many things in life that are not fair, that wealthy people can afford and poor people cannot. But I don’t believe that the federal government should take action to make these opportunities exactly equal, particularly when there is a moral factor involved." I puzzled and thought about that phrase, and that expression, and all I could think of was “does this mean morality for the poor?” Does it mean that” it is a matter of either money or morality? Or does it mean that money is morality.

And then, to the secretary of hew, let us say no more than that he certainly practices his principles in this particular situation with an incredible zealousness. Does that zealousness reflect the commitment of his president? I can't tell and I 'm not going to try to read between the lines.

Or does it reflect the zealousness of the bishop’s conference.

And let me again speak on a personal level. I know the struggle and the lobbying and the effort it has taken to get women appointed in this present administration. I realize that there were letters written to the president. You each will have to make up your minds on this. But are those letters enough? Somehow or other the analogy comes to my mind that all those “brave” people in the Johnson administration and I put quotes around brave, that opposed the Vietnam war, didn’t speak out until they were out of office.

And then we come to our third brand. And I guess I have the greatest sense of chagrin there because we do expect more of that group that I now call “the Supremes.” It has been said that with increasing frequency the court turns those cases that it does hear into constitutional disasters. This aptly demonstrated by the cases of abortion handed down on June 20th of this year. But actually why did we expect more? Those decisions are in the tradition of the burger court decisions which have fallen most cruelly on those least able to protect themselves.

During the court’s past two terms, it has denied social security benefits to illegitimate children who would have received the benefits automatically had they been legitimate. It has refused to allow poor people in Kentucky to sue over the curtailment of services to indigents by local hospitals. It has kicked out of court another group of poor people who could not find places to live in the suburbs of Rochester because of restrictive zoning ordinances.

It has allowed the state of Virginia to prosecute homosexuals for sodomy without even bothering to write an opinion saying why that was constitutionally permissible or what the state’s interest in such prosecution was. It’s the court that speaks about the compelling interest of states in childbirth and yet will permit the use of physical force, even when it is excessive. In the school cases that they handed down in April of this year, a likely prelude to the June 20th decision. The three decisions in the Beal vs. Doe a participating state was not required by Title XIX of the Social Security Act to fund the costs of non-therapeutic abortions, although a state if it desired was free under Title XIX to provide such funding.

For Maher vs. Roe, medication handed down on the same date. A Connecticut regulation excluded funding for non-therapeutic abortions did not violate the equal protection clause of the constitution, although there was funding for pregnancy and childbirth, there is a footnote in that case. Those two plaintiffs were a sixteen year old high school junior and an unwed mother of three, they are the human factor involved.

Poelker vs. Doe handed down on the same date, an indigent woman sought to obtain a non-therapeutic abortion in a civil rights action on the basis of a constitutional violation in a public hospital was turned down. On June 29th, the U.S. Supreme Court nullified Judge Dooling’s ruling holding unconstitutional a congressional ban on federal funding of abortion to end pregnancy that did not endanger a mother’s life. Yes, that courageous and perceptive judge had ruled it. Denied the needy the means to exercise a right guaranteed to those with money.

I’ve read and reread those decisions and there is beautiful and meaningful language in some of the opinions. The only problem is that the language is found in the dissents. As Justice Blackman said in his descent in Beal vs. Doe: “the court today by its decisions in these cases allow the states and such municipalities as chose to do so to accomplish indirectly what the court in Roe vs. Wade by substantial majority and with some emphasis I had thought, said they could not do directly. The court conceives the existence of a constitutional right but denies the realization and enjoyment of that right on the ground that existence and realization are separate and distinct. For the individual woman concerned, indigent and financially helpless as the court opinions in the three cases concede her to be, the result is punitive and tragic. Implicit in the court’s holdings is the notion that she may go elsewhere for her abortion.”

And Justice Blackman concludes, I find this alarming, almost reminiscent of “let them eat cake.” Some nine or ten years ago a black activist in Texas told me that Justice ought to take of her blindfold and see what was going on. But after reading those majority opinions I really don’t think it would enlighten the majority of the Supreme Court to take their blindfolds off. Yes, the right to abortion has become a class issue, a race issue, a privacy issue, even a consumer issues, but above all it is our unique issue.

Speech from https://law.utexas.edu/farenthold/document/abortion-speech/.