D. A. Dirks is a senior academic planner for the University of Wisconsin System Administration. They are on the board of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. When not advocating for social justice, D.A. runs with friends and rescues cats, but not simultaneously. @Doris_Dirks
is a freelance writer based in the Cleveland area. She has written children’s and educational books and software, taught Latin, and worked in publishing. Has lived in England, Canada, New York City, Buffalo, west Michigan, and Cleveland, among other exotic locales. Knits and does the things a grandmother known as “Socky” should do. @relf
Why we wrote this book
We didn’t plan to write this story. It came to us.
Back in 2002, in a program for a Roe v. Wade observance, Pat read about Rev. Robert Hare, a Presbyterian minister in Cleveland who, in 1969, was charged with a crime for referring a young woman to a doctor in Massachusetts for an abortion. And he wasn’t the only one doing that—Hare was part of a nationwide network of ministers and rabbis referring women to competent doctors for abortions. Though Pat was a board member of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate and old enough to remember the pre-Roe era, she had never heard of the Clergy Consultation Service (CCS).
It was D.A. who, hearing the story, said, “Has anyone written about this?” And that set us on a labor of love that wound up taking 15 years to result in To Offer Compassion: A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion.
Why us? Not because of special expertise in the field. D.A. had at least taught women’s studies courses and was then working on a Ph.D. in medieval history. Pat’s work as a freelance writer had been confined mostly to books and software for young children. But we knew that someone should record the story for the historical record and that there was some urgency, since many of the original CCS members must be getting on in years. The story would be a welcome antidote to the impression, then and now, that people of faith necessarily condemn abortion.
Our goal was modest. We set out to record interviews with as many CCS participants as we could find. We didn’t think we’d find many. But at least those interview tapes would exist for posterity, and perhaps from those we could fashion an oral history of the group. We eventually found the names of more than 1,500 CCS members (and continue to learn of more), and did some 70 interviews. We assumed that for legal reasons no one would have kept any papers relating to the group. In fact we found several archives—boxes and boxes of papers retained by the New York and Chicago groups, as well as some smaller private archives that interviewees kindly shared.
That’s how this book crept up on us—and took us 15 years to complete. We are glad to be able to share the story of the CCS at this volatile political time, with abortion access under full assault. It’s a reminder of the appalling situation in which women found themselves when abortion was illegal. It’s evidence of a long history of religious people supporting reproductive rights. And it’s an inspiring story of how the clergy’s direct action not only helped thousands of women but also helped to change laws.