High feminist dudgeon went higher at the Souter hearings when Sen. Strom Thurmond said: "We have a lovely group of ladies here. We thank you for your presence. I have no questions." At the witness table, Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders and said later that Thurmond had "trivialized" her and other women there to oppose David Souter's nomination to the Supreme Court.

The South Carolina Republican, 87 and the oldest member of Congress, belongs to the school of chivalry that believes men should open doors for women, buss them on the cheek rather than shake hands and call them lovely ladies as if they were wearing antebellum gowns and serving mint juleps to menfolk on the veranda.

Molly Yard, tightly wound by half, picked a useless fight. She might have had a case had Thurmond said "lovely girls" or, horror, "lovely gals," or fillies, chicks or duckies.

Getting ticked off because an unreformable old buck uses a double-standard phrase that was, at worst, the equivalent of a burp showed Yard caricaturing the humorless and hypersensitive side of feminism. Her pique gave Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) a chance to heave a lasso around this incivility. "Don't shrug," he snapped at Yard. "I get tired of watching shrugs and kind of looking up at the ceiling when Strom Thurmond says something courteous."

Although Souter wasn't called back to give his views on the constitutionality of calling ladies lovely or women acting unlovely in response, Simpson issued a sound judgment: Yard and her sisters "love to dish it out but they don't like to take it." Instead of quitting while they were behind, NOW has called for an apology from the Senate Judiciary Committee, a request that's about as likely to be fulfilled as hair growing on Simpson's pate.

Yard came to the hearings on a mission of wild zealotry, consistent with an abortion rights fanaticism that led her to say that confirming David Souter would mean "ending freedom for women in this country."

This style of apocalyptic trembling, fit for an embattled speech at an abortion rally, puts Yard over the line that separates authentic social revolutionaries from cause-mongering pop-offs who are so sure of the correctness of their stance that anything slightly askew -- especially the near-harmless remark of an 87-year-old codger -- is not allowed to stand.

By bursting their veins before and during the hearings over Souter's unknown views on abortion, did Yard and her tribalists really expect him to intellectually prostrate himself before the NOW demands? He refused to be cornered and, like Br'er Rabbit, uttered nary a peep from the brier patch. On notice that nothing short of saying "I pledge always to uphold Roe v. Wade" would satisfy the abortion lobby, Souter finessed it. He was well coached by the White House and Justice Department in the art of no-answer answers, so as to appear a good-guy moderate worthy of the Senate's support.

Souter should be rejected -- for rank inexperience in federal law. Because abortion dominated his hearings, the public knows little or nothing of his views on such constitutional issues as workplace safety, limits on corporate power, consumer rights or capital punishment.

In arguing against Souter, Yard had much to say about women's rights and reproductive rights but nothing on fetal rights. She defines women's freedom in a narrowness that she would find intolerable if expressed by the other side. For Yard, women's freedom means full empowerment to kill what is alive and growing, which is a bizarre definition of freedom. The state -- the patriarchal state -- sanctions the destruction of fetal life for the same reason it has legalized the violence of war and capital punishment.

Many credible feminists -- female and male -- reject the violence of abortion because they oppose all forms of violence. Molly Yard doesn't speak for them. Legal rights don't mean moral rights, a distinction she doesn't discuss.

Alan Simpson, who has a solid record of lambasting anyone who acts like a sidewinder, should have gone further and told Yard to stop offending not only Strom Thurmond but those feminists who differ from the NOW line. Yard doesn't speak for them. Little evidence exists that she even wants to understand them.