When Democratic congressional candidate Brigid Callahan Harrison was 26-years-old, she tried to help a pro-choice Republican take out the leading pro-life member of the Pennsylvania legislature.
In 1992 – one year after Anita Hill charged that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her – Callahan decided to manage the campaign of Ellen Fisher, a 32-year-old abortion rights activist who switched parties to challenge Pennsylvania State Rep. Stephen Freind in the Republican primary.
Freind wrote the state’s Abortion Control Act a decade earlier mandating married women to notify their husbands before having an abortion, and required clinics show women images of developing fetuses. Freind suggested that it was nearly impossible for a woman to become pregnant through rape.
That year, Freind decided not to seek re-election to the legislature and instead challenged incumbent Arlen Specter in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. He won 35% of the vote.
Fisher wound up facing Freind’s pick to succeed him, Joan Genthert, in the GOP primary. The Delaware County district was safe Republican at the time and Genthert defeated Fisher in the 166th district primary.
The primary campaign Harrison ran against Genthert helped the pro-choice Democratic candidate, Gregory Vitali, win an upset victory in the general election.
Around the same time, Harrison was serving as the secretary of the Atlantic County Democrats. She received her county chairman’s blessing to run the Fisher campaign, and the organization line to run as a Democratic candidate for freeholder the following year.