On August 4, D. A. and Pat joined a panel hosted by Rev. Dr. Chris Davies for the United Church of Christ’s “Thursdays for the Soul” series. The discussion also included the testimony of Rev. Donna Schaper about her work with the Clergy Consultation Service and since; Faith Choice Ohio’s executive director, Elaina Ramsey; and Dr. Sherry Warren, the United Church of Christ’s minister for gender justice, speaking about ways people of faith can show up now that we look towards mounting state-led barriers to abortion access. If you missed the livestream, the entire program is available on YouTube.
The fall of Roe . . . and the new life of the Clergy Consultation Service
As much as we were expecting–and dreading–the moment when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, when it actually happened, we felt much worse than we could have imagined. A partisan court has taken away a basic right to health care that a great majority of Americans support–as of last month only 13% of Americans thought abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Since the decision came down, we’ve been protesting and donating–the National Network of Abortion Funds donation site has barely been able to keep up. In states where abortion became illegal almost immediately, providers scrambled to contact patients who had appointments booked, trying to help them find alternatives.
Nearly all of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion members whom we interviewed–regardless of their age at the time–said they were ready to jump back in to abortion counseling if it became necessary. And, sure enough, though we’ve since lost many of those original clergy, their legacy lives on. Faith Choice Ohio, Pat’s local faith-based organization, has been holding trainings for the past year in preparation for this moment and has established a Jubilee Fund to help abortion seekers. Other faith communities around the country are springing into direct action. An immediate link to the CCS is the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, whose clergy and congregation have been assisting people seeking abortions to fly to New Mexico to a clinic run by Dr. Curtis Boyd. Boyd received abortion referrals from the CCS before Roe. Listen to Grace Oldham, of Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting, talk about her home congregation’s work on the June 28, 2022, episode of Democracy Now! (starting at about 53:40 in the show) or listen to her full report on Reveal’s June 25 podcast (starting at about 38:48)–it includes the voices of Dr. Boyd and Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter, senior minister at First Unitarian, as well as excerpts from an archival interview with Rev. Howard Moody.
For practical advice on how to find an abortion or support others in doing so right now, read Robin Marty’s piece in the New York Times of June 24, 2022 or, even better, consult the new edition of her book, The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America: The Complete Guide to Abortion Legality, Access and Practical Support. The Clergy Consultation Service showed us that there’s always something we can do, even in the darkest times. Let’s do it.
Photo: © Can Stock Photo / zimmytws
It’s about to happen . . .
Politico reports that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and that Justice Samuel Alito is writing the majority opinion. We all knew this was coming, but, somehow, seeing it actually happening feels much worse than we expected.
This morning we are doing three things: We are remembering that abortion is still legal today. We are taking inspiration from the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, a group that showed that people of good conscience taking direct action can not only make things better but can make systemic change happen. And then, as soon as our local bookstore opens, we’re rushing to buy or order the new edition of Robin Marty’s very practical New Handbook for a Post-Roe America: The Complete Guide to Abortion Legality, Access, and Practical Support (also available at Seven Stories Press or Bookshop.org). Marty’s book offers practical advice for finding abortion care, helping others to find it, supporting local organizations that offer help, and advocating for legal change. A majority of people still favor abortion access. We’re not alone.
In Memory of Rev. Carl E. Bielby
We recently learned of the death of Carl E. Bielby, in April 2021. Rev. Bielby, the founder of the Michigan Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, was a larger-than-life character who had numerous careers, all of them ultimately in service of justice and compassion.
Bielby was born in a suburb of Detroit and grew up Methodist. He played clarinet and later said, “Music was my first calling.” During high school, he moved with his family into a diverse neighborhood of Detroit. As a teen he had a born-again experience; he felt called to ministry, and he organized a revival meeting on a truck bed and played cornet with a group called Voices of Christian Youth. He attended conservative schools–Bob Jones University in South Carolina, and Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky–but not without rebelling against their more fundamentalist teachings. He studied counseling psychology, and counseling was what he really wanted to do.
After graduation, he served as associate minister at First Methodist in Owosso, Michigan, and DJ’d a religious radio show. He became solo minister at Asbury Methodist Church on Grand Avenue in Detroit, where his mission was to liberalize and integrate the church. His mentor was the Black minister of a nearby Methodist church. His marriage to his high school sweetheart broke up, and although the bishop disapproved of a divorced clergyman, he was called as co-pastor to a church in Warren, Michigan. He continued to study Methodist theology and pastoral counseling, and took classes at the Merrill-Palmer Institute on marriage, family, and human sexuality.
Eventually Bielby wanted to leave church-based ministry and became head of the marriage and family life department at the Metropolitan Detroit Council of Churches. It was in 1967, during his time there, that he became a founding member of the Michigan Council for the Study of Abortion, based at the University of Michigan. A public health professor from that group urged Bielby to start a Michigan Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, and Bielby went to New York to learn how from Rev. Howard Moody. Then, Bielby said, he and other clergy met with Michigan State Police representatives to ask them, “How can we do this so that you can’t arrest us?” Bielby observed a Chicago doctor as he performed abortions, and when he returned to Detroit, he actually taught the technique to a prominent gynecologist and helped him to set up an illegal abortion practice in an apartment building.
What Bielby saw as necessary, he accomplished. He left Detroit and worked at other nonprofits, did career counseling–including for clergy who wanted to change careers– went into advertising and promotion, and later started the Redeem the Dream Foundation, which served young musicians. We don’t even know all that he did–he was a man of many interests and talents and enthusiasms. We are grateful for the abortion work that he did, and for his sharing his memories with us.
His July 17 memorial service may be viewed on Carl Bielby’s Facebook page. We extend our sincere condolences to all of his family and friends.
U.S. Catholic bishops vs. compassion
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ political push to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights is nothing new. In the 1960s, that body was just about the only organized voice against abortion. But were the bishops less political in those days? No. In 1967, as the New York State Legislature was poised to pass a bill reforming abortion laws, the bishops wrote a pastoral letter calling for Catholics in the state to oppose such reform and directed that the letter be read from every pulpit in the state. The bill was killed in committee–which led pretty directly to the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).
Were the bishops more in tune with average Catholics (or vice versa) back then? Again, no. In 1965, as now, a majority of American Catholics believed that legal abortions should be available, at least under some circumstances. Compassionate Catholic clergy–both priests and nuns–worked with the CCS, referring desperate parishioners to the group, or serving as post-abortion counselors for Catholic clients. The New York CCS found that about a third of their clients were Catholic. Though he was against abortion, Father Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit, argued in The Dublin Review in 1967 for repealing laws prohibiting it, saying, “repeal would not mean that the state approves of abortion but only that it declines to regulate it.” Drinan served for a decade as a member of Congress from Massachusetts, but left office to comply with Pope John Paul II’s call for priests to stay out of politics.
The bishops, however, then and now, have never been shy about politics. As Mollie Wilson O’Reilly wrote recently in the Atlantic, “It has become an article of faith among some Catholics that to be a member of the Church in good standing means voting Republican; that this is not literally an article of our faith is something many bishops are content to obfuscate.” O’Reilly points out that Donald Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr, a Catholic, oversaw the reinstatement and increased application of the death penalty. The bishops said nothing about withholding communion from Barr, though the Church condemns capital punishment just as it does abortion.
Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, is quoted in Salon as saying, “To use what is most sacred about our church and sacred to Biden, to punish him or try to bully him into changing his views on abortion rights, is very troubling,” she said. “The bishops taking part in this are part of a right-wing political agenda in this country. It’s very scary.”
Where is the love in all of this? The most compassionate response we’ve read has come from Father John D. Whitney, a Jesuit, who wrote on his Facebook page: “I want to write a longer piece about those bishops who seek to keep some from the table of Christ, but for now I will say this: it is not you[r] table (nor mine). Bishops, priests, etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (‘all you who labor’); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared (‘Take this, all of you. . .this is my body, this is my blood’). We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane, please. The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.”
Former peer sex educator elected to U.S. Senate
Much has happened this eventful week. But let’s not forget the good news of the morning of January 6, 2021. The Black voters, Black organizers, and specifically the amazing Stacey Abrams have worked a wonder: transforming Georgia through education, voter registration, and sheer hard work. Georgia has elected its first Black senator, a Democratic, pro-choice minister, Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Warnock’s reproductive justice credentials go way back. As Anoa Changa wrote in an article for Harper’s Bazaar last month, Warnock worked as a peer sex educator when he was a high school student in Savannah. He was employed by the family health division of Georgia’s Department of Human Resources to write their first sex ed handout for teens. As a Morehouse College student, he organized a team of peer counselors around the state. And when he became a pastor in Baltimore, he brought the faith community together to address HIV/AIDS.
Changa wrote that Warnock’s dedication to sexual health work has its basis in Black liberation theology, a topic Warnock spoke about in a 2013 address at Yale Divinity School.
Of course, we know that, as legal scholar Mary Ziegler wrote in the Atlantic, “There have always been pro-choice pastors such as Reverend Warnock.” But not many have been U.S. senators. We should be jubilant that his faithful support for health care for the vulnerable and abortion rights has been long, consistent, and outspoken, and we can expect Reverend Senator Warnock to continue that fight in the U.S. Senate.
Thoughts on single-issue voting
Yes, it’s election season in the U.S. And, as they have since the 1980s, anti-abortion activists are busy trying to convince many religious Americans that only one issue should determine their vote: ending access to abortion.
Like the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion before it, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice supports reproductive freedom and has long fought the notion that all people of faith condemn abortion. In fact, most people of faith do not.
And the horrors of the past four years–mistreatment of immigrants and separation of small children from their families, police killings of black people, administration support for white supremacists, withholding of universal health care during a pandemic–have brought out dramatic reminders to “moral-grounds” voters that there are many other issues to consider in an election.
David E. DeCosse, director of religious and Catholic ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, reminds Catholics that “No Catholic is bound to vote on the basis of abortion alone.” In “Catholics, Voting, and Abortion: Time to Correct the Record,” in the National Catholic Reporter, he writes, “. . . Catholics should take abortion seriously but also consider the full range of serious issues at stake. (In other words, for the sake of the common good, it’s generally better not to vote on the basis of a single issue.) In this election, these issues certainly include the character of the candidates, the management of the pandemic, racism, the economy, climate change, immigration, domestic and international peace and more.”
Rev. Carl Kline reflects on his experience as a member of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion in an article for the Brookings (South Dakota) Register, “Christians Should Not Focus on a Single Moral Issue.” He wonders why so many Christians focus on abortion–about which Jesus said nothing–and overlook his actual teachings. “It pains me to think Christians can be so focused on a single moral issue that they ignore all the others. Take the issue of killing. Does the command of Jesus include not killing killers, as our president has resumed the death penalty in federal cases in this country; six dead so far? What does Jesus say about 35 bullets sprayed around and into Breonna Taylor; or a knee on a neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until all breath is gone? Or what about southern neighbors, dying in detention centers or sent back to sure death in their own country? Are these the ones Jesus would have us love, as ourself?”
If the Republican senate rushes to approve an anti-choice appointment to the Supreme Court, will anti-abortion voters feel satisfied and turn their election attention to other issues–issues that their religious teachings actually call them to consider? We’ll see.
Abortion Law in the Time of Pandemic
Since early spring, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a horrific toll on Americans in ways direct and indirect. Across the country, lawmakers almost immediately seized on the pandemic as an excuse to label abortion a “non-essential” service and attempted either to close down providers or to place further limits on abortion services.
Well, it’s August, and some of the resulting lawsuits have now had a chance to play out. B. Jessie Hill, Judge Ben C. Green Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, has been at the center of the legal battle, arguing successfully to keep the Preterm clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, open. Hill offers a summary of the pandemic-era cases in the Virginia Law Review, in “Essentially Elective: The Law and Ideology of Restricting Abortion During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” She concludes that “for long-term protection of abortion rights, abortion must be reframed as a medically necessary and appropriate treatment, and it must be rhetorically re-incorporated into health care more generally.” The article is well worth a read.
How does abortion affect women? Now there’s data.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that some state lawmakers have exploited, trying to label abortion providers “non-essential services.” Wherever they have succeeded–as in Texas–women have had to travel long distances to be treated, during a time when they were supposed to be quarantining at home. It’s one more example of lawmakers oppressing and hurting people in the name of “protecting” them.
Opponents of abortion, reluctant anymore to call abortion “murder,” long ago turned to claiming that abortion has terrible effects on the recipient. Claims that abortion causes physical ill effects (e.g., breast cancer, infertility), mental health problems (depression, anxiety), or lifelong moral regret continue to be used in legislatures and courtrooms as a reason to ban or restrict abortion. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling in Gonzales vs. Carhart (2007) said, “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”
Diana Greene Foster, the principal investigator and author of The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, A Thousand Women, And the Consequences of Having – Or Being Denied – An Abortion, now provides the reliable data that was lacking in 2007. Foster studied people who had obtained abortions close to the gestational limit imposed in their locality, and people who had been refused abortions for having just exceeded that limit. Investigators interviewed subjects one week later, then every six months for five years. As Foster told Terry Gross in a Fresh Air interview, “We were interested in their mental health, their physical health, their family’s economic well-being, how they were caring for the children they already have and whether they were having more children over the course of the five years.”
In the first six months, people who had been turned away did worse than those who had had abortions–they had greater anxiety, lower self-esteem, and less life satisfaction. Over the longer term, those who had had abortions were better off financially, were less likely to suffer domestic abuse, formed better maternal bonds with subsequent children, and were rarely regretful. Foster told Gross, “We find that 95% of women who receive an abortion later report that it was the right decision for them. So I think it’s a surprising fact people assume that women feel regret. And I think it’s not that they don’t realize that there are moral questions involved, but they’re weighing their whole life responsibilities and plans and decide this is the right decision for them. . . . I think the most important idea that I would like to convey is to correct the idea that abortion is always a hard decision and that women need more time to think about it and that they can’t be trusted to make a decision that’s best for themselves.”
In the interview, Foster goes on to speak movingly about her two grandmothers, both of whom had abortions at a time when it was illegal. We recommend a listen.
Abortion bans: about power and control
As reported by TV station KRQE, motorists on I-25 in New Mexico are seeing new billboards with a powerful message: “Rape is about power and control. So are abortion bans. Keep abortion safe and legal.” The billboards are sponsored by Progress Now New Mexico, whose Marianna Anaya writes, “Across the United States, there is an epidemic of politicians, governments and extremists who are trying to assert power and control over our bodies by means of banning abortion- a personal decision that should always remain between a person and their doctor. By taking away our personal decision-making abilities, we are being stripped of respect, and being stripped of autonomy.”
And a recent poll of U.S. voters backs up the billboards’ message. The Supermajority/PerryUndem poll found “that anti-abortion voters are among the most likely – if not the most likely – segment to hold inegalitarian views” regarding gender equality. In other words, as Jill Filipovic writes in The Guardian, “Anti-abortion advocacy pushes the view that life begins at conception; the name of their movement carefully centers the conceit that opposition to abortion rights is simply about wanting to save human lives. A new poll shows that’s a lie. The ‘pro-life’ movement is fundamentally about misogyny.” She follows up with the details; do read her whole column.
This year let’s be inspired by that New Mexico billboard to call misogyny–and racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all forms of hateful disempowerment–exactly what it is, and work together to make better policy, better laws, a better world. Our voices–including our billboards–our work, our donations, and most of all our votes can make the change.