Book reviews

Sue Ellen Browder’s Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement (Ignatius Press, 2015)

Browder’s autobiography is an important addition to the growing field of works documenting pro-life history since the 1960s.  Her knowledge of the machinations of famous anti-lifers makes her work compelling reading.

For example, twenty-first century readers need to know that Larry Lader was the rabidly anti-Catholic abortion activist who persuaded Cosmopolitan magazine and American feminists in the late 1960s to regard abortion as a right instead of an abuse of women’s bodies and the killing of unborn children (page 12).

Even though she argues that Betty Friedan at first advocated a “family feminism” that respected the rights of the unborn child (pages 29-31), Browder credits the famous former abortionist and later pro-life activist Bernard Nathanson for exposing Lader as the one who persuaded Friedan to include abortion as a right in the agenda of the National Organization for Women (page 51),

Similarly, Browder’s investigative reporter mode is evident when she documents the machinations behind the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton abortion decisions, which legalized abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever.  The lazy legal “scholarship” behind the abortion decisions can be summarized in one striking cause-and-effect relationship: Justice Harry Blackmun relied too much on his law clerk, George Frampton, Jr., who depended heavily on Lader’s faulty and biased writings on abortion (pages 94-95).  (Fortunately, Lader’s reprehensible distortion of abortion history was rectified by Joseph W. Dellapenna’s scholarly work, Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History.)

Contemporary readers will feel a range of emotions on reading Browder’s autobiography.  They will be angry at the injustice that Browder experienced when she was fired from a journalism job for being pregnant (page 28).  They will feel sorrow that she was persuaded into aborting a child because of economic hardships (pages 104-105).  They will be astounded that her job at Cosmopolitan involved not investigative journalism, but a propaganda effort to sell the sex-without-marriage idea in almost every article she wrote (page 14 and passim).

But those are negative emotions.  Browder’s autobiography engenders many enduring positive emotions.  Today’s reader will rejoice that someone who promoted the rabid Cosmopolitan stance on sexual gratification at all costs and abortion as a “right” would ultimately convert to the pro-life perspective.  Browder’s testament of love for her husband as he lay dying is a fitting conclusion to the range of positive emotions that readers will experience.

Moreover, Browder’s journey to the Catholic Church (covered in pages 176-177) makes sense because it is credible.  Her story compares with other famous abortionists (like Nathanson) who converted to Catholicism as the fulfillment of their deepest desires for a life-affirming community.  One passage on her conversion reads as sheer poetry: “The Church, in her all-forgiving love, is so beautiful that I feel as if I’m living inside a too-thousand-year-old poem” (186).  Browder’s conversion is a delightfully happy ending to an otherwise tragic experience working among anti-lifers.

Browder’s autobiography is recommended for at least three groups: college students who need to know the beginnings of pro-life feminist history, activists who wonder if their involvement in the abortion business is a satisfactory way to find fulfillment in their lives, and Hollywood producers who want to depict the reality of a feminist who escaped the despair of a life-denying lifestyle and chose a life-affirming one.

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