Three D.C. Grande Dames Speak Out (June/July 2003)

Helen Thomas, First Woman of Journalism

Thomas, 82, is known for opening presidential press conferences with the first question, and for closing them with the courtesy of “Thank you, Mr. President.”

“You have no idea how often I’ve wanted to say, ‘NO thank you, Mr. President,’ ” she quipped.

Thomas, whose columns have sharply rebuked the president’s faith-based initiatives plans, noted: “Atheists pay taxes, too!”

She warned that the stature of the United States is in jeopardy:

“The past is prologue. We have lost our halo. We are feared, not revered. If you care about your children, or grandchildren, wake up!”

When asked by Freethought Today day to compare today’s climate with McCarthyism, Ms. Thomas was silent for a long moment, then replied:

“McCarthyism was limited in scope. This is all-pervading. I have never had this sense before that it’s everywhere.”

NARAL President Kate Michelman: “We are going to
wake up one day and find out we are not in the same country.”
Photo by August Berkshire.
Kate Michelman, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America

Michelman proclaimed herself a humanist who believes in “the supremacy of reason as a monument to human dignity and a means to social progress.”

Michelman pointed out that the White House has seen the successful confirmation of 124 nominees to the federal and appeals courts, nearly all of them with “judicial philosophies that would make your hair stand on end.”

“People have suspended disbelief that we can lose rights in America,” but “we are barreling toward that destination,” with Roe v. Wade “hanging by a thread.”

“The Bush Administration is going to remake our courts and we are going to wake up one day and find out we are not in the same country.”

Gloria Feldt, President of Planned Parenthood

Although she identified herself as Jewish, Ms. Feldt said: “We share a philosophy that it’s not what you believe in life that counts–it’s what you do.”

Feldt said being a “progressive in the 21st century” is a lot like being Jewish in Odessa, Tex., where her young children were told they had “black hearts” because they had not “accepted Jesus.”

“Religious freedom is a lot like reproductive freedom. To be religious or not, or be a parent or not, is our choice. The founders believed in separating the sacred from the secular.”

The White House is “packing courts, only nominating judges who ‘know our rights come from God.’ “

The “Born Alive Infants” Protection Act, which Bush will sign, confers legal personhood on fetuses, and describes “unborn children” as “created in God’s image.”

The funding of abstinence programs in schools, which forbid teaching about contraception, shows the “abstinence of commonsense.”

Feldt joked:

“Hypocrisy is the common denominator for self-righteous idealogues. William Bennett is the favorite hypocrite of the day. He ought to be called ‘The Bookie of Virtues.’

“George Bush is born again, when once would have been quite enough.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation