| (Top) Mother Teresa and Hillary Clinton
|Hillary poses with her new book Living History in New York on Monday. (Reuters)
Washington, June 9: Mother Teresa and Hillary Clinton clashed on the issue of abortion when the latter was America’s First Lady and Mother was visiting the US capital at the invitation of President Bill Clinton.
The former First Lady, now a senator from New York, gives an account of this clash and her deep impressions of Mother Teresa in Living History, her memoir of eight years in the White House.
Living History, which was released to queues of waiting customers at late night bookstores in the US at the stroke of midnight last night, has so far made news in India for pre-publication leaks about the then President’s sexual escapade with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
But the book is testimony to India’s impact on Hillary, who is credited after her first visit to the country with having influenced her husband to engage India, leading to the current blossoming of Indo-US relations.
Hillary, who represented the US at Mother’s funeral, met Mother Teresa for the first time in February 1994. She had been invited by the White House for the “national prayer breakfast” hosted every year by the President.
“I remember being struck by how tiny she was and I noticed that she was wearing only socks and sandals in the bitter winter cold,” Hillary wrote.
After delivering a passionate speech against abortion at the prayer breakfast, she sought out the First Lady, a champion of one of America’s raging controversies — a woman’s right to abortion. “Mother Teresa was unerringly direct. She disagreed with my views on a woman’s right to choose and told me so.”
Over the years, she doggedly campaigned with the First Lady to try and change her views on abortion. “She sent me dozens of notes and messages with the same gentle entreaty. Mother Teresa never lectured or scolded me, her admonitions were always loving and heartfelt.”
Mother, of course, never succeeded in changing Hillary’s views on the subject, but would perhaps have been happy, had she been alive today, to see that the Republican White House sees the issue differently.
“I had the greatest respect for her opposition to abortion, but I believe that it is dangerous to give any state the power to enforce criminal penalties against women (who terminate their pregnancies) and doctors” who perform abortions.
“I consider that a slippery slope to state control of reproduction, and I had witnessed the consequences of such control in China and communist Romania. I also disagreed with her opposition — and that of the Catholic church — to birth control.”
Hillary wrote that although she and Mother Teresa never agreed on birth control, they found much common ground in many other areas, including the importance of adoption.
“We shared the conviction that adoption was a vastly better choice than abortion for unplanned or unwanted babies.”
Hillary had a taste of Mother’s tenacity and determination when the latter co-opted the former First Lady into a project for Missionaries of Charity in Washington.
“At our first meeting, she told me about her homes for orphans in India and enlisted my help in setting up a similar facility in Washington, D.C., where babies could be cared for until adoption.
“When I agreed to assist with the project, Mother Teresa revealed her skills as a relentless lobbyist. If she felt the job was lagging, she wrote letters asking me what progress we had made.
“She sent emissaries to spur me on. She called me from Vietnam, she called me from India, always with the same message. When do I get my centre for babies'”
Hillary nearly gave up because Washington bureaucracy turned out to be more difficult than she imagined.
“Not even the White House had an easy time cutting red tape with the housing authorities and human services officials.”
But eventually, the idea of the Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children became a reality.
“Mother Teresa flew in from Calcutta and I met her for the opening ceremonies. Like a happy child, she gripped my arm in her small, strong hand and dragged me upstairs to see the freshly painted nursery and rows of bassinets waiting to be filled with infants.
“Her enthusiasm was irresistible. By then I fully understood how thus humble nun could move nations to her will.”
Recalling Mother’s funeral, Hillary wrote that the extent of Mother Teresa’s influence was in full display in Calcutta as presidents and prime ministers knelt before her open casket.
“I could imagine her looking down at the scene and wondering how she might harness all those assembled to help the poor in all the countries represented that day.”