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50 Years Ago: Not Just Woodstock

1969 was quite a year. This year we’ve observed the 50th anniversaries of the first moon landing and Woodstock. But 1969 was quite a year–for good and ill–in the realm of reproductive rights, too.  That year, seven states passed bills liberalizing their abortion laws to some degree. A sampling of some more 50th anniversaries we should be noting this year:

January: The radical feminist Redstockings group formed. In March 1969 they held a meeting at Washington Square Methodist Church in New York at which women publicly spoke of their abortion experiences.

February: The feminist group Jane formed in Chicago in February, at first to refer women to illegal abortion providers they had judged to be safe. When they realized that their main practitioner was not, in fact, a physician, members of the group learned to do the procedure themselves.

February 14-16: NARAL was founded, starting with the First National Conference on Abortion Laws in Chicago. The theme was “Modification or Repeal?” The organizers included writer Larry Lader, who had played a big part in urging the clergy to make abortion referrals; Chicago physician Lonny Myers; and ecologist Garrett Hardin. Speakers at the conference included Dr. Bernard Nathanson–soon to become director of the Women’s Services abortion clinic opened by the Clergy Consultation Service, and later an anti-abortion activist; and feminist writer Betty Friedan.

April: The Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS) received a blackmail threat, and the New York Police Department itself helped Rev. Howard Moody to set up a sting to catch the culprit. (See pages 77-78 of To Offer Compassion.)

April 17: A moderate bill to reform abortion law in New York, sponsored by Assemblyman Albert H. Blumenthal, was defeated for a third time in the State Assembly. The bill would finally pass the following year, legalizing abortion in New York and permitting the 1970 opening of the CCS Women’s Services clinic in New York City.

May 19: Activist Bill Baird was sentenced to three months in jail for “exhibiting obscene objects” (contraceptives) and distributing such an object (handing a student a package of Emko contraceptive foam) at a public lecture in Massachusetts.

May 19: An 18-year old from Bay Village, Ohio, died in London. The Cleveland CCS had referred her to a previously very reliable clinic and was horrified at her death. The head of the Cleveland CCS, Rev. Farley Wheelwright, flew to London. He learned–and the official inquest confirmed–that her death was not the result of her abortion but of post-operative negligence by the anesthesiologist, who was dismissed by the clinic. (Page 78, To Offer Compassion.)

May 23: The New York City Police raided a group of abortion providers in Riverdale, Bronx. Writer Larry Lader and a few CCS counselors had referred to the group. Lader, Moody, Arlene Carmen, Rev. Finley Schaef, and other members of the CCS testified before a grand jury in the case that September. No charges against counselors came from the case.

June 10: Rev. Robert Hare of the Cleveland Clergy Consultation Service was indicted by Massachusetts for referring a woman to Dr. Pierre Brunelle for an abortion. Hare appeared in court in Massachusetts. Brunelle was convicted–he was unlicensed in Massachusetts at the time, for a start–and Hare’s charges were dismissed. But in a rare move, the prosecutor appealed the dismissal. The case was still in flux in early 1973 when the RoeWade decision by the Supreme Court made the matter moot. (Pages 78-83, To Offer Compassion.)

September 5: For the first time in the U.S., an abortion law was declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of California ruled that the state’s old abortion law, which permitted abortion only when necessary to preserve a woman’s life, and under which Dr. Leon P. Belous had been convicted, was unconstitutionally vague. Importantly, the Belous decision cited an established right to privacy and liberty in reproductive decisions. (Note: The case had great symbolic but little practical importance at the time, as California had passed a reformed abortion law in 1967, after Belous had been charged.)

November 10: Now, for the first time, an abortion law was declared unconstitutional by a federal court. Federal District Court Judge Gerhard A. Gesell dismissed the indictment of Dr. Milan Vuitch for performing abortions in the District of Columbia, ruling the law unconstitutionally vague on the subject. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 1971 overturned the ruling as to vagueness, but treated abortion as it would any other surgical procedure and upheld the judgment of physicians in medical decisions. Very shortly after that appeal, the Supreme Court justices voted to take up other abortion cases, including RoeWade.

And, in 1969, the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion continued to expand. New chapters officially opened in nine more states, including Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia; several more started referrals but were not yet public; and many more were in the works.

Abortion Access Today, Links

Remembering what we’re going back to: Testimony from a CCS client

The escalating state-by-state attacks on reproductive rights these past few days, weeks, and months have us in a momentary state of shocked paralysis. It was one thing to write last year about where things were headed in theory; the reality, now that it is arriving on a daily basis, is still a horrific surprise. While we gather our wits and energy, we are so grateful to all the activists and organizations who have not paused for a second and are already deep in the fray, bringing lawsuits, protesting, forming help networks, donating to abortion access funds, and, yes, writing. We were especially touched to read the personal story of Carla Nordstrom in Huffpost Personal today. Ms. Nordstrom was a client of the Clergy Consultation Service who obtained an abortion in Pittsburgh–though this doctor certainly would have been removed from their referral list if anyone reported his dirty instruments. Thank you to the author and to all who are finding the strength to share their abortion stories, whether at length or in a #YouKnowMe tweet. For resources and ways to help, we recommend Robin Marty’s very practical Handbook for a Post-Roe America (Seven Stories Press, 2019), and we will be back in the fight by Monday morning, we promise.

Abortion Access Today, Links

Opinion: Ohio’s Heartbeat Bill a Throwback to the Bad Old Days

Ohio’s legislature has passed a bill to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Well, that’s at about 6 weeks, before many women even know that they are pregnant, so the effect is that abortion will be banned in Ohio. As we all know, that doesn’t mean that people won’t seek and find abortions however they can . . . it just makes those abortions much more dangerous.

New governor Mike DeWine has already vowed to sign the legislation.

Our opinion piece on the subject, with a short but instructive history of the Clergy Consultation Service’s experience, appears in the Cincinnati Enquirer today.

Abortion Access Today

Two more states add “trigger laws”

The election of Tuesday, November 6, brought mixed results for reproductive justice. Women–including many women of color–were elected to office around the country, and the House now has a Democratic majority. However, the Senate remains Republican, and thus retains power over judgeships.

Citizens in three states also voted on ballot measures that would create “trigger laws”–state laws or constitutional amendments that would take effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion regulation to states. In two of the three states–Alabama and West Virginia–the trigger laws passed, meaning that if Roe falls, abortion will become illegal or much less accessible in those states. Alabama’s law has even broader implications as it assigns embryos and fetuses “personhood” status. Oregon voters voted against a proposed trigger law. For details, see Macaela Mackenzie in her Glamour article and Irin Carmon in The Cut.

Meanwhile, an NBC exit poll taken on election day showed that two-thirds of voters favor keeping the Roe decision as the law of the land.

 

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / slickspics

Links

Rev. Donna Schaper on the CCS and Jane

Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York, is featured in a new, short video interview by Tracy Thompson for Jezebel. Rev. Schaper talks about the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service and her own work with the group, and about the Chicago women’s abortion group Jane. She also speaks of the current situation regarding abortion in the U.S.–and what may need to happen if the law changes. (Oh, and the video includes a couple of wonderful archival photos of Howard Moody and Arlene Carmen.)

Links

Preparing for life after Roe

This collection of three short essays is sobering but essential reading: How to Prepare for a Post-Roe America from In These Times. Journalist and author Robin Marty, lawyer Farah Diaz-Tello, and activist, author, and scholar Loretta J. Ross offer warnings and recommendations for dealing with a United States where abortion is again illegal–or at least inaccessible for most of the country. It’s not a happy picture, but there are things we can do.