Nader Blasts NOW On Women's Issues

OAKLAND, California -- Criticized by the head of the National Organization of Women as being "ill-informed about abortion rights," presidential candidate Ralph Nader Thursday accused the group of ignoring key women's issues in favor of "political expediency."

Nader was responding to NOW president Patricia Ireland's stinging accusation in Thursday's San Francisco Chronicle. In a voice rising with irritation, he argued Ireland's active campaign against his candidacy is typical "politics of fear" rhetoric common among powerful liberal organizations.

"I think it's time for the constituency groups of the Democratic Party to hold that party up to a higher standard, instead of crawling on their knees to an endorsement because they think Republicans are worse," he said at the headquarters of the California Nurses Association, one of the largest unions to endorse his Green Party candidacy.

Ireland criticized Nader for not mentioning "any explicitly feminist issues, not birth control or abortion," in his 10-page candidacy statement. "It's not just an indifference," she told the Chronicle, "it's an ignorance that's almost willful."

Nader responded with a sharp civics lecture about his own career.

"I've been fighting for women's rights since before Patricia Ireland knew the term," he said. "In 1957, there were 11 states in this country that prohibited women from serving on juries. ... Do you know who wrote (about that issue)? You're looking at him."

The Green Party's position on abortion, available on the Web site, is actually a verbatim copy of NOW's, Nader said. Furthermore, NOW has been conspicuously silent on several issues over the past eight years, he charged.

"By the way, they haven't asked Mr. Gore to speak about (the Equal Rights Amendment). Isn't that strange? Wasn't that a big crusade?" Nader asked. "I haven't heard NOW talk about why the Clinton/Gore administration is foot-dragging on RU-486 for almost eight years," he added, referring to the so-called abortion pill.

Two of Nader's many consumer-protection books have covered discrimination against women and many of his other core issues, such as medical malpractice, greatly affect women, he said.

"Women are discriminated against in everything from excessive and unnecessary operations, unnecessary prescriptions, auto dealer and repair firms ripping them off because they think they can take advantage of them, credit discrimination, and many other forms that are documented in our book," he said. "I have failed utterly to get NOW interested in this subject for the last 18 years. And the other thing I'd like Patricia Ireland to pay some attention to, is over 40,000 women a year die from medical malpractice in hospitals. No comment there!"

Rosanne DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, said she was appalled by Ireland's statements.

"You know, we're an organization of women -- 31,000 registered nurses," DeMoro said. "And we're appalled by this thing today. I mean, if health care isn't a women's issue, what is? And this man has the best position on health care by far. On all of the issues."

Nader, who has never married and is known for being awkward around women, is having trouble connecting with several hardcore constituencies of the Democratic Party, from major unions to African-American organizations, who accuse him of dishonestly minimizing the differences between the two major parties and abetting Republican George W. Bush's candidacy. Answering their concerns has taken much of Nader's campaigning time, and his responses have ranged from sympathy to exasperation.

"I think [Ireland] is hiding the better instincts of that organization, because they're afraid of the Republicans more than they're disgusted with the Democrats," he said. "I don't like political expedience by NOW, or any other groups that are affiliated with the Democratic Party."

The 45 or so union leaders gathered at CNA headquarters seemed to agree with Nader's preference for idealism over strategic politics.

"He's the most principled man that I have ever met or have ever known in my lifetime," said CNA President Kay McVay. "There's absolutely no question in our minds about choosing to support Ralph Nader. He's the best RN I've ever known."

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