Books in Brief

Books in Brief

Reviewed by Lisa Vincenti and Patricia Baird-Windle

The Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War

by Jim Risen and Judy Thomas.
Basic Books, a subsidiary of Perseus Books

Written by two of this nation’s top reporters covering abortion, Wrath of Angels is at once a substantial contribution to the historical record and a painful disappointment. While the authors brilliantly recount the build-up, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, of the so-called rescue movement — the combative mass blockades of abortion clinics and of women’s health facilities that included abortion among their services — they miss the most damaging part of the campaign: the devastating strategy of covertly exerting pressure “where they live” on abortion providers, their associates, and their patients, and the long-term effects this has on the individuals involved.

Wrath of Angels omits completely this domestic terrorism: the insidious, invidious nastiness that is part of the daily life of abortion providers targeted by hard-core zealots. As one of the most heavily targeted abortion providers in the country, it is something that I have been dealing with week in and week out since 1989. It was then that the anti-abortion activists developed this new tactic, and a cadre of career fanatics began trying to put my small Florida clinics out of business by making, not only me and my family, but our staff and their families, and often, our patients, the targets of actions designed to disrupt, even destroy, our personal lives.

Such covert actions include canceling credit cards after gleaning information from stolen garbage; giving numerous fraudulent notices of changes of address; telephone jamming; electronic surveillance; making false complaints to government agencies; license-plate tracking of patients, followed by mailings to their homes; and harassment of clinic landlords and neighbors, of judges and representatives of the media. Clinics around the country are targeted in this way, all the time.

Yet in reading Wrath of Angels, one is left with the impression that neither Jim Risen, who reports on the U.S. Supreme Court for the Los Angeles Times, nor his co-author, Judy Thomas, of the Kansas City Star, quite believes that any of this really happens. If they do know better — and both writers are well-versed in the abortion wars, why do they leave it out?

Thomas, who was formerly with the Wichita Eagle, came to the abortion issue during the 1991 “Siege of Wichita,” when Operation Rescue, in a campaign which resulted in some 2,700 of their members being arrested, garnered daily headlines nationwide. (The extremists measure success by the number of arrests and the amount of disruption and delay of clinic services they can cause.) Thomas’ experience deepened with coverage of Shelley Shannon, who shot Dr. George Tiller in August 1993, and later, the Shannon trials.

Given Thomas’ background, I am also unable to understand why she contributed to the erroneous conclusion drawn in Wrath of Angels that the war against abortion providers is essentially over. Perhaps her editors did not believe her, or perhaps not enough abortion providers supplied her with details of the continuing covert campaign against us.

Whatever the reason, a book that purports to cover of the entire anti-abortion war, actually only touches on a small piece of it. If abortion providers had to deal with nothing more than mass demonstrations and blockades, we could do so easily. They are, after all, proportionally minor incursions. It is the daily, in-the-shadows, covert harassment that squeezes the life out of us. To paraphrase a Chinese proverb, “We bleed to death from a thousand tiny cuts.” Wrath of Angels fails to recognize our slow exsanguination.

Patricia Baird-Windle founded Aware Woman Centers for Choice in Florida in 1977. The clinics were targeted by anti-abortionists, leading to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1994, which upheld an injunction protecting patients from close contact with abusive fanatics.

The Feminist Dollar: The Wise Woman’s Buying Guide

by Phyllis A. Katz and Margaret Katz.
Plenum Press, New York, 1997

I’m in aisle three of my local supermarket debating whether to buy a Snickers bar. Snickers, made by Mars, is on the no-no list, not because of its impact on the waistline but because of Mars’s employment policies on women. A better choice for that candy bar, apparently, would be one of Hershey’s; Hershey gives its female employees a much better deal, including a full year of job-guaranteed parental leave. According to The Feminist Dollar: The Wise Woman’s Buying Guide, Mars, which also produces Uncle Ben’s rice and M&Ms, is not a female-friendly company, ranking as it does below other food corporations in pay equality between men and women, benefits plans, and the number of women in the upper levels of management.

The Feminist Dollar analyses how 400 companies treat female employees. Written by mother-daughter team Phyllis A. Katz, Ph.D., an editor at the Journal of Social Issues and a former professor at New York University, and Margaret Katz, a writing consultant, the guide suggests that women, who account for 80 percent of all consumer spending, should “vote” with their wallets, and support only those businesses that have equitable gender employment policies, while shunning those companies that don’t.

Such economic clout can be used effectively, as anti-abortion groups demonstrated when, by threatening to boycott drug companies planning to market the abortifacient RU-486, they successfully hindered its release in the United States. Nike, too, felt consumer anger when its exploitative manufacturing practices in the developing world were disclosed. “The guide is meant to be used for all your purchases. Take it grocery shopping, consult it before buying a car, a computer, or an airline ticket,” the authors recommend. Indeed, the book is easy to use and has a comprehensive list of product names and companies. The next time you are shopping for a car, for example, note that the guide, which reviews eight automakers, recommends only General Motors and Toyota. GM, in fact, ranks first among the 400 companies surveyed for its family-friendly benefits: job-guaranteed, two-year parental or family emergency leave; and flex-time, job-sharing, and work-at-home options.

Volkswagen, Chrysler, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Ford, and Honda of America all receive below-average ratings. As do other household-name companies: Sharp Electronics, United Parcel Service, U.S. Life, American Insurance Group, ITT Sheraton, Weston Hotel, Bear Stearn, and Fidelity Investment.

Among the big-name drug companies, Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol, Hismanal, Band-Aid), Merck (prescription drugs), and Procter & Gamble (NyQuil, Vicks, Pepto-Bismol) score above the industry average. Those that rank near the bottom include Carter-Wallace (First Response pregnancy tests and Trojan condoms) and Unilever (Q-Tips, Vaseline).

The Feminist Dollar offers valuable insights into sexism in the workplace. But without any accompanying media campaign, will corporations realize why sales are dropping off, if in fact, they do decline? And will Americans (men, one hopes, as well as women) abjure brand loyalty and personal preferences in order to further the cause of women’s equality? Those who care certainly will. But even if American companies are kept in the dark about what is hitting their bottom lines, women can rest easier knowing that they are championing those firms that are female-friendly.

Reviewed by Lisa Vincenti, a New York writer and editor.