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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, Links

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.

Links

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 Access Today, Politics

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.

History

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.)