An Anti-Abortion Activist Bares Her Troubling Secret -- `I Am A Walking Example Of Pro-Choice,' She Says

LOS ANGELES - Susan Carpenter McMillan was behind enemy lines. She was hissed and booed for describing abortion as America's holocaust. A professor's appeal for deference did little but reduce the college audience here to polite fidgeting.

Later, McMillan discussed the cost of being spokeswoman for a view that one 1989 survey showed is held by less than 15 percent of America women: that abortion should not be a legal choice, not even for victims of rape or incest.

``I'm loved by no one and hated by everyone,'' said McMillan, media representative for the Right to Life League of Southern California. ``I'm not conservative enough for the right wing. God knows, I'm not liberal enough for the left wing. I'm married to a Catholic and I'm a Protestant. I'm a feminist who is pro-life.''

And as a rich, crisp, stylish, sometimes sarcastic and always emotional voice for one side of a volatile, even violent, international issue, Susan Carpenter McMillan also has managed to attract more suggestions of scandal than a presidential candidate.

A persistent rumor has been that McMillan - who has spent a decade preaching that abortion must be considered illegal, immoral and infanticide - actually had an abortion as a young woman. Until now, she had never publicly responded to the gossip.

But McMillan acknowledged last week that she had an abortion in 1970 while an unmarried drama student at the University of Southern California.

It was an experience, she said, that she tried handling by ``complete denial'' for 13 years.

``I faced it seven years ago when I was talking in my office with another woman who had an abortion. She was crying and talking about it and it just kind of flew out of my mouth . . . and I said, I mean I can't remember what I said . . . but I suddenly was saying something I hadn't said in 13 years.''

Despite that 1983 confession, McMillan said her abortion remained a 20-year secret kept from her family, friends and league workers. Because, she explained, it was a private moment decades ago, which she presumed was buried too deep for detection. In addition, she said, ``I don't consider myself a public figure...

``But the minute some journalist looks at you and says: `Have you had an abortion?' . . . you have to say: `Yes.'

``And then somebody asks you what do you feel like and what does that do to you . . . and you have to relive it . . . and you, emotionally, abort all over again.''

McMillan also said that in 1983, three years into her work as an anti-abortion activist, she underwent a ``therapeutic abortion'' for a failing pregnancy at a hospital in Glendale, Calif. This was after her marriage to lawyer William McMillan III and the birth of their eldest daughter, now 11, but before the birth of their youngest child, 5.

``I didn't even know that that (a therapeutic abortion) was happening to me,'' she recalled. ``I was bleeding with sacs of blood and everything else. . . . The doctor said I was losing the baby, the baby was deteriorating, and they had to go in and have a D and C (dilatation and curettage).''

Six months later, McMillan said, she had problems with another pregnancy. This time, she saw any termination as a possible conflict with her beliefs.

``I remember talking to some of my friends in the movement afterwards (after the earlier therapeutic abortion), thinking that (it) wasn't really the right thing for me to do,'' she continued. ``So the next time - I was about four, 4 1/2 months pregnant - when they said they were going to take me in for a D and C. I said: `No you're not. I'll lay here in labor. It is my body.'

``And I lay there over 20 hours. She (the baby) was dead . . . very, very deformed.''

McMillan, 42, has carried the message of the Right to Life League and her California chapter of Feminists for Life from full debates on national talk shows to 75-word sound bites on radio stations here. She does 250 media interviews a year.

But will she resign from this public work knowing that her abortion history may be seen as a contradiction of her anti-abortion statements?

``Never,'' McMillan said. ``This (abortion) happened 20 years ago. I will never resign. Never. This movement is my life and I think what you are looking at is a prime example of what abortion does to women.''

And what is that?

``I think that women that deal with it and confront it . . . realize that they will never be the same. They are never completely whole again. You can't hire a hit man to go into your body and crush the skull of your child and . . . have it ripped from your body and mangled . . . and expect to be just normal again.''

Presumably was that not what she told herself 20 years ago?

``I suppose you tell yourself that it (an aborted fetus) is tissue and that you were right. But the reality is that every woman knows that is a lie. That it is your baby you are asking to have killed. Every wom

an who ever enters an abortion clinic knows she is taking the life of a human being.''

McMillan declined to discuss the relationship that led to her 1970 pregnancy except to say it was a long-term romance. Nor would she discuss her reason for choosing abortion over adoption or marriage to the father.

But in an earlier interview, McMillan said that in her youth she carried no religious or emotional opposition to abortion ``because I believed strongly in the women's movement.''

Will her past negate anti-abor

tion advice she now delivers to today's young people?

``No,'' McMillan snapped, and she was crying.

She said this had been the worst day of her life. A member of a church near her Pasadena home, she had spent most of the day discussing her abortion admission with her minister and a counselor.

Then what might be her advice to young people?

``That I have been there. . . . I have walked down that (abortion) path. You can look at me and I am a walking example of pro-choice. This is what it does to you.''

McMillan - Susie to just about anyone who has known her for more than an hour - has no intention of letting her revelations interfere with her work.

The morning after revealing her past, she was on a flight to Lincoln to make a presentation in the Nebraska state capitol. Then she was issuing a press release urging anti-abortion supporters to boycott a boycott - by buying Idaho potatoes for delivery to the homeless.

But within herself, she goes ``into hibernation, a slump when these things come up.'' In the past, McMillan said, it was whispered that she had bilked the league by using its funds to pay for first-class air travel to Norway and a series of speaking engagements last year. Those expenses, she explained, were actually paid by her and the Norwegian sponsors of her visit.

After the gossip concerning her alleged misuse of league money, ``I cried for three days. I broke out in red blotches. At these times in my life, I think: `Hell's bells, why am I in this?' There are times, sitting here with you, knowing that these things are going to come out, that you do want to get out of it.

``But I'll go back (home) and look at my newspaper. . . .''

It is an old newspaper, a 1983 periodical published by the Pro-Life Medical Association. It shows a fetus in pieces. The caption reads: ``Baby Boy, unnamed, Coroner's case No. 82-1901-1, weight after abortion, 900 grams. Age 27-29 weeks. Cause of death: Dismemberment by Dr. . . . now doing business in Arizona.''

``I'll look at that and pull myself up and go on,'' McMillan said.

McMillan is a rich woman. She and her husband live in a multimillion-dollar, 6,600-square-foot home on one acre of San Marino, an affluent city eight miles east of Los Angeles. The house is built on what used to be the Winchell (as in doughnuts) Estate. That's across from the Pillsbury (as in Doughboy) Estate.

McMillan drives to inner-city anti-abortion meetings in her Mercedes 380SL. She wears a gold Rolex and a diamond ring that is ``one carat for every year I helped put my husband through law school.''

But McMillan says she makes no apologies for her husband's success, will not wear jeans to her public presentations and although ``the last thing I'm there (in the inner city) to do is offend . . . I am not going to have a wardrobe for the poor.''

She states her opinions plainly.

-- On abortion for victims of rape or incest: ``We can't make exceptions for any of those. It is still (taking) a human life and if you make one exception, then you make all exceptions.''

-- On abortion to save the life of the mother: ``I'm saying that (a mother) has a right to defend her life. . . . Then the woman has the right to say: `I'm going to take the life of this little aggressor even though it is an innocent aggressor.' ''

-- On abortion of a deformed fetus: No. ``Suddenly, I guess God took the day off and you decided who shall live and who shall die.''

-- On abortion in extreme cases of poverty or other family hardship: ``What would you say to a mother who had tuberculosis and a father who had syphilis and the first child was blind? The second child had tuberculosis and the third child was mentally retarded? And now she's pregnant again. What would you do? Everybody says: `I'd abort.' Well, you just aborted Beethoven.''

-- On the abortion pill: ``It's a human pesticide.''

Critical remarks rise regularly against such statements and the woman who makes them.

Commented abortion-rights advocate Gloria Allred: ``She has an elitist, upper-middle-class, unrealistic view of the world. She has memorized the hot buttons and the buzzwords.''