January 20, 2011


A Pro-Choice Feminist's Worst Nightmare: Meet the lawyer who's crusading to advance women's rights—by restricting access to abortion. (Sarah Blustain, January/February 2011, Mother Jones)

HAROLD CASSIDY IS trying to break my heart. We're sitting in his law office, minutes from the antiques haven of Red Bank, New Jersey, and a stone's throw from the Navesink River. The room, furnished with a gleaming wooden table, green-and-brass banker's lamps, and legal volumes lining the walls, could be the set for any movie about a small-town lawyer who lives by his passion for justice. Cassidy himself is a master of the dramatic narrative—his work has made him a collector of heartrending tales that, despite what must be countless retellings, he shares again with fresh intensity.

This one is about a girl he calls Donna Santa Marie (PDF), who discovered she was pregnant just before her 16th birthday. She and her boyfriend, both children of immigrants, were excited and wanted to get married. His parents gave their blessing; hers demanded that she have an abortion. Donna refused.

"Donna," he says, drawing out each word for emphasis, "was very strong—exceptionally strong for a woman her age." For two weeks, her parents let her go to school but otherwise would not let her out of her room. "And every day they wore on her; she had to have the abortion, she had to have the abortion. She just continued to refuse. They then made her a promise: They said, 'If you get the abortion you can get married; in fact, we'll hold a big church wedding.' She still refused."

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Finally, Donna's parents told her they would prosecute her boyfriend for statutory rape if she didn't comply. So she went with them to the abortion clinic. When a clinic questionnaire asked, "What do you consider an abortion?" she wrote, "Murdering my baby." To the question "Is anyone forcing you to have an abortion?" she wrote: "Yes, my parents." Based on her answers, the doctor refused to do the procedure.

The parents were extremely angry, Cassidy explains, speeding up slightly; the next day, Donna's father punched her in the abdomen, and a few days later he took her to another clinic. "Now, can you imagine," he says, quiet outrage rising in his voice, "a 16-year-old girl putting up with this..." I'm expecting him to say "abuse," but he continues, "...this great right, supposedly, this great right to choose?" Now he's dripping with disgust. "And she goes into the waiting room and she's waiting for her forms to fill out and they didn't give her any, and they bring her back to a room and she's sitting there waiting to talk to the doctor, and someone came in and anesthetized her." Cassidy pauses.

"And they pulled the baby out."

FOR ALMOST two decades, Harold Cassidy has quietly advanced the pro-life cause by giving legal shape to the stories of women who terminated their pregnancies and came to regret it. He has sued abortion providers for, among other things, not warning these women that they would experience the profound grief he's convinced afflicts many who have ended a pregnancy. And while these ideas have become part of the vanguard of pro-life thinking—protect the woman, not just the unborn—few have heard of the man who helped bring them to prominence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 20, 2011 12:04 AM
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