Most news outlets this week -- and we are among them -- have marked the passing of Helen Gurley Brown, a woman regarded by many as a “legend” for her role in the sexual revolution of last century. Having read and thought about her for a day or two I have written my verdict and believe she was probably better than her word.
But the person I really want to acknowledge right now is a contemporary of Ms Gurley Brown who is a complete contrast. I met Ellen McCormack in a Public Discourse article this week. Born and raised in New York, she was a wife, mother, homemaker, pro-life pioneer and two-time presidential candidate -- for the Democrat party.
Although many rank and file Democrats were pro-life, writes Michael J New, none of the big-name candidates in 1976 (e.g. Jimmy Carter, Hubert Humphrey) “would commit to supporting a Human Life Amendment or any other legislative strategy to protect the unborn.” Since another experienced campaigner, Nellie Gray, was unavailable, Ellen McCormack agreed to step up and do her best to give the right to life issue the prominence it deserved.
The mainstream media, initially, ignored her, even though she won enough financial support in 20 states to become the first female presidential candidate to qualify for federal matching funds -- funds she used to run pro-life TV commercials seen by tens of millions of viewers. This outraged the Democratic Party’s leadership and the Federal Election Commission -- they went so far as to change the election rules to cut off her funds. But, says New,
In the end, Ellen McCormack’s campaign exceeded expectations. She ran in 18 primaries and received over 200,000 votes, 1.4 percent of the total votes cast. Her success in the primaries earned her 3 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. At the convention, she received both a nominating speech and a seconding speech. When the results were tallied, she received 22 votes from the convention delegates. Her campaign educated many people about abortion and demonstrated that a sizeable contingent of Democrats was willing to support a single-issue pro-life candidate.
New notes some important lessons for today’s pro-lifers to be drawn from Ellen McCormack’s many campaigns, including her apparent belief in an incremental approach to victory in what was likely to be a long struggle. For myself, I find this pro-life heroine (who died last year at the age of 84) a reminder that crises always reveal women and men of great character who inspire the rest of us to fight optimistically for human dignity and true human rights. We can all think of someone like that, I’m sure. And in that other crisis now on our hands, we need them.
In other new articles: Allan Carlson, author of a new book on Evangelicals and birth control, outlines the historical steps which led to contraception appearing to be a “Catholic issue”. Matthew Hanley comments on an extraordinary, and probably fleeting, change of tune at the New York Times. And George Friedman highlights Israel’s strategic crisis.