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A Shadow of Doubt : Kathi Hudson gave up her job to spy on Operation Rescue. But then she was 'born again,' sending shock waves through the abortion-rights movement.

NEW BATTLE LINES: The changing face of the abortion--rights conflict. First in an occasional series. COMING MONDAY: Conceding that they are losing in the political arena, anti--abortion activists plot new strategies as underdogs.

March 17, 1993|JAMES RISEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — It was time to pray.

Jeff White, California director of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, asked: "Do you want to pray?"

Kathi Hudson--a committed feminist, abortion clinic defender and pro-choice spy against Operation Rescue--couldn't believe it when she heard herself reply: "Yes."

It was late on a sweltering night in Houston last August, in the midst of the Republican National Convention, and Kathi Hudson and Jeff White were standing in the parking lot of Liberty Revival Church at the end of a long Operation Rescue rally.

As an abortion-rights "shadower," Hudson's job was to follow White and other Operation Rescue leaders everywhere, to listen and learn as much as possible about their plans and tactics, and to testify against them in court whenever necessary. Hudson, 47, had been doing it for years, first in her hometown of Washington and later across the country. She knew Operation Rescue's leadership, from founder Randall Terry on down, better than almost anyone in the pro-choice movement.

Operation Rescue people liked her low-key, friendly manner and talked freely with her; she never shouted in their faces, as did many of their other adversaries. They sometimes joked that Hudson was their "favorite pro-abort."

She was on such good terms with Operation Rescue, in fact, that the group allowed her to openly attend its private rallies, even though members knew exactly why she was there.

Standing nearby in the church parking lot was Elizabeth Volz, Hudson's close friend and fellow shadower, puzzled as she watched Hudson get into Randall Terry's car with White. As Volz walked up, a crowd of anti-abortion activists surged out of the rally and past her into the night.

Inside the rented Chrysler, Terry sat behind the wheel, impatient to leave. But as Hudson and White began to pray aloud, Terry suddenly quieted, seized with fascination as he watched Hudson.

Volz was worried. She wasn't certain what was going on, but she knew Hudson shouldn't be in the car with these men.

Of course, they could all be friendly to one another. Terry and White knew Volz almost as well as they knew Hudson--although they didn't learn about a third, anonymous abortion-rights spy at their rallies until later. Here on the fringes of America's most irresolvable issue, there was, among a very few abortion-rights shadowers and anti-abortion leaders, a certain . . . tense camaraderie, born of shared battles.

It was, Volz thought, sometimes easier to understand and respect a committed opponent than those who haven't taken up a cause.

"There is a sense that we are drawn to each other and have a common feeling that at least they care. . . . It is the people in the middle, who don't care, that we don't understand," observes Volz. "But there is probably only a handful of us on both sides who have gotten to know each other well enough to have a sense of common feeling and understanding of each other."

But the relationships have limits. Fire-bombings, death threats and now the slaying of a Florida physician outside an abortion clinic have seen to that.

They were still sworn enemies. Just a few months earlier, Hudson's eyewitness testimony had helped convict five Operation Rescue leaders, including White, of violating a federal court injunction to stay away from a Buffalo, N.Y., abortion clinic. White was facing jail time as he sat and prayed with Hudson.

A small crowd was forming around the car. Half a dozen opponents of abortion gathered to watch and wait, recognizing, along with Volz, that something must be going on.

Volz knocked on the window.

"Are you all right?" she asked Hudson.

"I'm fine."

Thirty minutes later, Jeff White emerged from the car, beaming.

"Kathi has been saved," he announced.

"When she surrendered her life to Christ, I was thrilled, and I ran out and told Elizabeth and the others," White recalls.

Hudson came out a moment later, and Volz approached her:

"What happened?"

"I don't know."

Two nights later, Kathi Hudson was called onstage at yet another Operation Rescue rally. She stood quietly as a conservative minister introduced her to the crowd and joyously announced that Kathi Hudson, their longtime nemesis, a member of the militant Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force, had been "born again."

"You're next!" jubilant abortion foes exclaimed, pointing at Elizabeth Volz, as she stood numbly in the audience.

News travels fast in the activist subcultures on both sides of the abortion issue.

Two weeks after Houston, after Volz and Hudson had quietly gone home, an Operation Rescue newsletter announced that a "pro-abort named Kathi" had found Jesus Christ. Its subscription list was loaded with abortion-rights activists, and calls were soon rolling in from friends on the Washington task force, asking Hudson if she could possibly be the "Kathi."

Panic set in when she said yes.

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