Lesley Israel Weighs In on Supreme Court Controversies and Gets Personal In the Landmark Third Episode of 'Work That Matters'
Esteemed political consultant and international democracy advocate, Lesley Israel, unveils the highly anticipated third installment of her acclaimed podcast series, Work That Matters. Watch it today on her official website, www.LesleyIsrael.com.
EASTON, MD, August 10, 2022 -- Lesley Israel knows politics. Not only was it quite literally the name of her renowned consultancy (Politics, Inc.), it is also something that has been central to her life's work even as a young woman. By 1967, she was already serving as director of media advance for Hubert Humphrey's 'Humphrey for President' campaign. From there, she landed several other leading roles in many key campaigns of the 1970s, while filling important roles elsewhere and cementing her presence as a force to be reckoned with in D.C.
For the woman who was once named "most powerful in Washington", this meteoric rise continued for at least four decades. In fact, it was only in 2016 that Lesley began winding down her career, following the capstone achievement of being appointed to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad by none other than Barack Obama.
Throughout most of Ms. Israel's formidable career one constant has been Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision in which the Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution granted the right to have an abortion. For many women, this right has always been a part of their lives, as reliable as the rising and setting sun.
That is, until now.
Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in what is arguably the most controversial ruling in modern history. Like many people all over the country, Lesley Israel was absolutely shocked when she heard the news. In fact, she couldn't believe that this sort of thing was happening in America! In Lesley's estimation, this was a severe blow to the very foundation of our democracy—and she would know, having spent the majority of her professional life implementing and managing democracy all over the world.
"I've never had an abortion," explains Lesley Israel. "But, I've had three early miscarriages. I wanted the babies, of course, but it didn't hurt like when I lost my adult son! Now, that is real. That hurts more than anything."
Lesley opens up about this devastating loss in the third installment of her acclaimed podcast, Work That Matters, arriving this week. In the program, Lesley brilliantly juxtaposes her own son's death with the larger issue of outlawing abortion on a federal level. She weaves a complex, but relatable, tapestry of facts, personal experience and good ol' common sense! Throughout the show, you will be able to hear her thoughts and opinions on this particular SCOTUS ruling and the overall function of the Court in 2022 as seen by different sides of the political aisle. Lesley also weighs in on court packing and the challenges that lie ahead for the United States on the whole.
You can enjoy the full podcast here, but as usual, we're providing you with the written interview below as well, so you can enjoy the interview two ways.
TSR News Group: Recently, The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, much to a lot of people's surprise. Were you shocked by it?
Lesley Israel: Totally shocked. I've never had an abortion, but I've had three early miscarriages. And I was sad because I wanted the babies, but they had no names or faces, or personalities. I lost an adult son, and that was very real and still is.
TSR News Group: Well, lots of people are saying that the Supreme Court has turned into a right-wing activist group at this point.
Lesley Israel: I agree.
TSR News Group: Do you think that's accurate? Or do you think that's overstating it at all?
Lesley Israel: Well, I'd say, at this point, yeah. It's something like that. They overturned a law that's been in place for half a century. There are laws that have been overturned that were a good idea, like slavery, but this one was... no, no, no.
TSR News Group: A popular talking point over the last few weeks is that Roe v. Wade was "bad law" to begin with, or bad constitutional law. Do you think there's any merit to that claim?
Lesley Israel: No. Women have a right to have control of their own bodies.
TSR News Group: If Roe can be considered by some as "bad law", what else could be called
that, and where does it end? Should people be worried about the loss of other freedoms?
Lesley Israel: I'm not sure which one. If you could suggest something, I might answer it specifically.
TSR News Group: Well, LGBTQ+ rights and things of that nature.
Lesley Israel: Yeah. I mean, I care who Fred sleeps with, my husband, but beyond that, to somebody else, it's their choice. You're wired in a particular way. It's not something you debate about and choose, it's what happens, the way you feel.
TSR News Group: This podcast, Work That Matters, is relatively new, only a few months old now, but it's already being seen as kind of a beacon of hope and direction for young women in the country, particularly those involved in politics and government, following in your path. As a champion for women in general, how much of a setback do you think this Roe situation is?
Lesley Israel: I think it's enormous. As I said, I had miscarriages [no abortions] and I was sad, but they were not real babies. They had no names, no faces, no personalities. When I lost a living son, it was tragic. But these are not real babies yet.
TSR News Group: Do you feel comfortable telling the story of the loss of your son?
Lesley Israel: Sure. Hal had ADHD growing up, and he had-- he did some drugs. He later told me, "I didn't take them to get high, I was trying to quiet noises in my head." But, he had had a very successful life. He graduated from Georgetown and from Yale Law School, and was practicing-- he got a clerkship with the Chief Justice of Arizona. And his morning routine was to work out in his own gym, sit in the hot tub, and be in his office by 8:30. And one morning he didn't come into work, and his wife was in Florida visiting her parents. She was pregnant with their second child, and she wanted to go [to Florida] while she could still travel. So, fortunately she didn't discover him. But, he didn't come into work, his secretary called and called. He had worked out, went to sit in the hot tub, and apparently had a seizure in the hot tub and drowned. The comfort is that it was painless. It was in the hot tub, so all he had to do was just lift his head. So it was very tragic.
TSR News Group: Well, I'm sure that's difficult beyond words.
Lesley Israel: It was very difficult.
TSR News Group: Well, it's interesting to put that perspective into this Roe v. Wade conversation, because like you said yourself a couple of times already, the miscarriages you had, they were nameless, faceless, they weren't like your grown son, with his own child, one on the way, family, established career, and so forth. Different situation.
Lesley Israel: And the comfort is that he was everything he wanted to be, after having had a rough growing up. But he's gone.
TSR News Group: And how about that baby that was on the way? Who did that turn out to be?
Lesley Israel: He's adorable! Ryan is a darling, and Hal's widow and children stay very close to us. After he died, they moved back to Florida, which is where her family was. She didn't have any particular roots in Arizona, but they stay close to us. We see them, we're in touch with them.
TSR News Group: That's very good. Well, as a former campaign manager and political consultant, do you feel that the Roe v. Wade issue will be better campaigning material for Democrats or for Republicans?
Lesley Israel: I feel strongly for Democrats. A woman must have control over her own body— the main example out there is a 10 year-old who was raped and got pregnant. To force a 10 year-old girl to have a baby that is from rape? No.
TSR News Group: And what, generally, would you say is the Republican angle on this?
Lesley Israel: Well, those who believe in it say it's 'right to life', but whose life? The child who is not yet a person, or a mom who is, and will never be the same?
TSR News Group: Now, do you think there's an underlying hypocrisy there, because Republicans are pro-life, but at the same time, look at what's happening with schools and school shootings and the children there, like Uvalde and so forth?
Lesley Israel: Oh God, yes. Those are real children! That's a very real situation!
TSR News Group: So, let me ask you this. I'm sure you know a lot of people. But, do you think that [Republicans] talk a big game, but maybe don't feel exactly that way behind closed doors?
Lesley Israel: Well, I don't see them behind closed doors, but I would expect some of them might.
TSR News Group: And the Republicans that you've known in your life, do you find them to be relatively decent people?
Lesley Israel: Yeah, my parents were Republicans. It was a very different party in those days. They were Eisenhower Republicans. But, they were perfectly decent people who believed in their individual rights.
TSR News Group: We touched on that in the last episode. To go a little bit further on it, would you say [Ronald] Reagan changed the party?
Lesley Israel: I don't know who changed the party. Reagan certainly had an impact on it. It wasn't my party. I've been deeply involved in politics, but on the other side of the fence. I think Reagan changed it, but others have as well. There are people who believe one thing and people who believe another. And I believe what I believe.
TSR News Group: So, would you say that Donald Trump in recent years radicalized the party?
Lesley Israel: Oh, yeah.
TSR News Group: Democrat politicians have said historically that abortion should be 'safe, legal, and rare'. Do you think that this is still the prevailing philosophy amongst Democrats, or have the expectations changed in recent years?
Lesley Israel: Oh no, I think people believe that it should be safe and legal when there's a reason for it. If it's a victim of rape or incest, or the health of the mother is in danger, or the life of the mother overall is- you know, 'I have seven children, I can't have another one.'
TSR News Group: So, maybe you can set the record straight on a lot of this stuff, because there are a lot of Republicans out there right now saying that Democrats are not only onboard for late-term abortion, essentially up-to-the-minute-of-birth abortion, but also infanticide. Right after birth.
Lesley Israel: No, I'm not for infanticide. I'm not for an abortion in your eighth month, when this is a living child. An abortion in your first, second, or third month, or maybe even the fourth —this couldn't be a living human being yet. It's not a child.
TSR News Group: So, do you think that Republicans twist the talking points a little bit?
Lesley Israel: Probably. They believe what they believe. I don't know. I'm not inside their
TSR News Group: Of course, but you've been in the political machine for such a long time, you have a very interesting insight. Most people, myself included, really just watch this stuff on TV and read about it in the newspapers. But, there are few people who've been inside of it like you have, so it's interesting to get that perspective. [Moving on...] You're a woman of faith. What sort of approach does Judaism take when it comes to abortion, and how does that compare with other religions like Christianity and such?
Lesley Israel: Well, of course Christianity is a very broad word. There are a lot of differences in who believes what. We [Jews] believe that abortion for a reason is legitimate. Now, we don't think that you should just say, 'yeah, I'm not in the mood right now' and that's not a good enough reason. But, if there's a reason to do it, you should do it.
TSR News Group: Well-said. Now, the Roe decision is one of several [Supreme Court decisions] that came down like a hammer in the past month, and people feel there are many more like it to come. You're an expert in matters of democracy, having helped implement, promote, and maintain it all over the world. Do you think that expanding the court is the answer? Because, there has been some talk of it.
Lesley Israel: I'm not sure, I keep getting emails about that. I'm not sure. The Supreme Court is what it is. It's not what I approve of right now, because these three Justices were appointed by a president whose points of view are different from mine. But, I'm not sure we should... should you expand the Court because of one decision that we all disagree with, or should we pass laws and gradually end this Supreme Court?
TSR News Group: What advice do you have for young women in Republican states, where women's reproductive rights are changing now every day?
Lesley Israel: Well, if a woman has a legitimate reason, any reason for wanting an abortion— and I can think of a lot of legitimate reasons, and they go far beyond rape and incest. 'I can't afford a child, I can't have a child...' Those are legitimate reasons not to finish a pregnancy.
TSR News Group: You know, now they're saying that women are gonna have to travel across state lines, and now certain states are going to track it.
Lesley Israel: I think that's terrible. It's nobody's damn business but your own. It's not murder. These are not living, breathing, human beings. You shouldn't have an abortion at eight months, when it is a living human being, but an early abortion is legit.
TSR News Group: And a lot of this stuff is being called un-American, many of these changes being made right now.
Lesley Israel: Yeah, I think they are un-American. We have a lot of individual rights. There are limits to them. I can't wake up in the morning, look at my husband and say, 'yeah, you were a son of a bitch yesterday' —CLUNK!!
TSR News Group: No, we can't do that in life. No matter how tempting it is some days, I'm sure. Well, in the next episode, we're actually going to talk about Fred [your husband] a little bit, because we'll be focusing on your family and he's central to that. I'm sure that there's a great story behind Fred as well, and you'll have the opportunity to tell it the next time people tune in and check out that episode.
Lesley Israel: Oh, he's a wonderful man.
TSR News Group: You've spoken highly of Fred for as long as I've known you. Well, that about wraps this one up for now. It's been a really wonderful opportunity to hear what you have to say about this Roe v. Wade topic. It was very enlightening, and it was just a really good perspective, down-to-earth, level-headed.
Lesley Israel: Yeah. I have a right over my own body.
TSR News Group: So, do you think that this decision is going to be changed in any way in the near future? Is there any way for that to happen?
Lesley Israel: I think eventually the new court—once there are vacancies and this president or the next one, whoever it is, starts appointing others—they can reverse it.
TSR News Group: A little bit of a waiting game at this point?
Lesley Israel: Yeah. I don't think we should change the court because of a decision we don't
like. It is what it is. But, it should be changed [constitutionally].
TSR News Group: The thing is, if you start changing the court every time you don't like something, then the opposition can change the court every time... and then you have 75 Justices, and it looks more like Congress than the court.
Lesley Israel: Oh, God! [laughter]
TSR News Group: Alright, well, thank you for your time, Lesley, and we'll see you for the next episode.
Lesley Israel: See you for the next one. Thank you so much.
For additional information about Lesley Israel, please click here. If you'd like to jump directly to
the latest installment of her Work That Matters podcast, follow this link.
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TSR News Group
New York, NY
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