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.
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled, 5-4, that so-called crisis pregnancy centers–places that are set up to look like medical clinics but usually don’t offer medical care and exist solely to dissuade women from getting abortion care–cannot be required to post a statement disclosing what they really are and how women can find actual abortion providers. California’s disclosure law had been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court.
But the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, based its decision on the First Amendment, saying the law “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”
The court’s support of free speech rights for these specious crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) poses a question in our minds: If CPC staff have free speech rights and cannot be required to provide particular, legally-prescribed information to their clients, then the same must be true for actual medical professionals, right? Doctors, nurses, and counselors who provide abortion care are currently required in some states to read particular statements to their patients–and some of these legally-required statements contain outright lies. There are state laws requiring doctors to tell their patients that abortion may result in “post-abortion stress syndrome” (fictional), fetal pain (untrue), breast cancer (no), and other ill effects for which there is no evidence, or that a medication abortion can be reversed (not shown). Surely, forcing clinic staff to provide these particular, legally-prescribed statements to their patients violates their First Amendment rights.
We’d love to hear from some lawyers on this.
Photo (c) Can Stock Photo / slickspics
While one of us—D.A.—lives in the relative reproductive freedom of Canada, Pat lives in Ohio, a state that is sliding backwards in time and policy at an alarming rate and is threatening to drag the rest of the country along with it.
The latest in a string of bills that endanger women is Ohio HB 565, a fetal personhood bill that would make abortion at any stage murder, with no exception for cases of rape, incest, or danger to the woman. A total abortion ban, with a charge of murder attached. Oh, and did we mention that Ohio has the death penalty? “Pro-life” is apparently a malleable term.
Even the legislators (18 men and 2 women, names here for Ohio voters) who have sponsored the bill must know that its chances of passing and being signed—even by Gov. John Kasich—are slim. But, as the New York Times editorial board points out, such an outrageous bill can serve to make other, almost-as-radical bills seem reasonable by comparison.
On March 23, 2018, Jessie Hill, Judge Ben C. Green Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, who has served as attorney for Planned Parenthood, Preterm (an abortion provider in Cleveland), and the Ohio ACLU in reproductive rights cases, spoke at the ACLU in Cleveland about this and other recent abortion bills and laws in Ohio. It was a sobering recitation.
The Ohio legislature has passed—and Gov. Kasich has signed—legislation that prevents women from seeking an abortion because of Down syndrome. It’s a law that does nothing to improve access to resources for families of children with Down syndrome; it merely restricts women’s freedom to make their own reproductive decisions and to consult freely with their doctors. The Ohio ACLU and Planned Parenthood have won a preliminary injunction against the law, but the state will appeal.
A complete ban on dilation and extraction (D&E), the most common 2nd-trimester abortion procedure, has been proposed in the Ohio legislature. In effect, that’s a ban on any outpatient abortion after 13 weeks. Ohio is likely to pass the ban, Prof. Hill said, in spite of the fact that similar laws have been struck down in other states.
TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) have been highly effective in Ohio. In 1999, Ohio had 22 clinics that provided abortions; today there are only eight, and three are at risk of closing. Prof. Hill says that Cincinnati could become the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion provider. Although many clinics have been able to comply with requirements for ambulatory surgical facilities—way beyond what is needed for safety—some have not been able to get written transfer agreements with nearby hospitals. That’s because Ohio law does not permit public hospitals to make such agreements with abortion providers; Catholic hospitals refuse them, of course; and in recent years Catholic hospital systems have acquired many other private hospitals which then must comply with their religious restrictions on abortion. In Cincinnati, even The Jewish Hospital is now part of the Catholic Mercy Health system and so cannot provide a written transfer agreement with the remaining Planned Parenthood clinic. Of course, the transfer agreements are simply a ruse to close clinics; any hospital emergency room is required to treat a woman who needs emergency care. An initial challenge to the written transfer law was unsuccessful; Planned Parenthood has another in court right now.
A “heartbeat bill”—a ban on any abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be heard—is under consideration in the Ohio legislature again, in spite of the fact that Gov. Kasich vetoed a similar bill more than a year ago. Since a heartbeat can be heard at around six weeks after conception, the ban would be in effect before many women even know they are pregnant.
Around the country, states face the same kinds of challenges to women’s reproductive rights. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and other organizations and individual clinics are fighting the fight in legislatures and in court. From these cases, Prof. Hill pointed out one positive sign from the Supreme Court of the United States: in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the court ruled that states cannot place restrictions on abortion providers that impose an undue burden for women who seek abortion. The crucial part of that decision, Hill said, is that courts must balance the benefits of such restrictions against the burdens they cause—and, most importantly, that there must be evidence of the health and safety benefit of those restrictions. On that basis, there’s a clear path to fight TRAP laws and other such restrictions that offer no safety benefit at all.
If, in the panic after the 2016 election, you offered support to the ACLU and other such organizations for their legal work, please don’t forget to renew your support now. (Links above.) There’s a long legal road ahead in Ohio and around the country.
Photo: Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, OH © Can Stock Photo / tank_bmb
“Religious Freedom” is a catchphrase beloved by social conservatives, usually as a way to claim a right to refuse to care for or serve gay or trans people, or to refuse to provide legal medical services such as abortion. But real religious freedom must include the rights of people of any or no religion both to provide any legal service and to receive services and care to which they are entitled.
A reminder of this: The Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer reports that area clergy recently gathered outside a Bethesda, Maryland, abortion clinic–one of the few remaining places where women can obtain a late-term abortion–to pray in support of the clinic’s patients and care providers. Rev. Carlton Veazey, a Baptist minister and past president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights, said, “The Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to choose an abortion. But before the Supreme Court did it, God had already done it, because it affirms a woman’s moral agency.”
The positive support of these ministers and rabbis is uplifting. But Zauzmer’s article ends with a dark reminder of the violence that abortion providers, supporters, and patients face from terrorists claiming to be “pro-life”: Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the physician who runs the Bethesda clinic, is a person of faith who has been forced to stop attending regular church services. Zausmer writes, “Carhart said he believes in God ‘very strongly,’ but he stopped going to his Methodist church when his pastor told him he was risking his safety by predictably appearing in the pews every week. . . . But even without church, he feels he is living out his faith by helping women through what is often the worst time of their lives — the illness or other devastating circumstance that leads them to his office. ‘I think in itself, that’s religious,’ he said. Most days, though, he doesn’t have a clinic full of clergy in their vestments to back up his viewpoint.” #ReligiousFreedom?
Vanessa Williams, in the Washington Post, reminds us that it was fifty years ago this year that, without the help of the New York Democratic Party’s political machine, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. “Unbought and Unbossed” was her campaign slogan, and it’s also the title of her memoir, which we can’t recommend highly enough. It’s a book that, unfortunately, could have been written yesterday.
Abortion rights were important to Rep. Chisholm. She became honorary president of NARAL and often spoke publicly about abortion. As a result, women from around the country called her congressional office seeking help. Rep. Chisholm provided staffers with a directory for the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion so that they could refer each caller to a CCS chapter in their area.
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first black candidate to seek the nomination of a major political party for president, and she was the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination. If only . . .
A snowy day in a new year seems tailor-made for looking back–and maybe sorting some of the boxes and boxes of photos we’ve vowed to take care of. Eleven years ago at this time, Judson Memorial Church was planning a 40th anniversary celebration of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. That May brought a mighty gathering of many of the founding and early members of the CCS. Rev. Howard Moody gave a stirring sermon on “The Unfinished Revolution in Roe v. Wade.”
Co-founder Rev. Finley Schaef spoke, and Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, founder of the Chicago CCS was also there. Rev. Tom Davis, who had been a CCS member with his late wife, Rev. Betsy Davis, and the longtime chair of Planned Parenthood’s national Clergy Advisory Board, spoke that day. He recently recalled, “I remember Howard Moody and some of the others sitting in the front row looking like bandits who got away with something. Such brave people.”
And the host that day, as for the 50th anniversary, was Rev. Donna Schaper, Judson’s senior minister, who had also served the CCS in Chicago when she was in seminary. Since then, we’ve lost Howard Moody and Spencer Parsons and all too many of the other CCS participants. But their legacy abides in Planned Parenthood’s clergy boards, in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and many other reproductive justice groups.
Hugh Hefner has died at the age of 91. We’d like to note a connection that not many of his obituaries will mention: that the Playboy magazine empire he founded also helped a group of Chicago clergy to start a chapter of the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies (as it was called there) and to expand throughout the Midwest.
Hefner started the Playboy Foundation in 1965 with the goals of “fostering open communication about human sexuality, reproductive health and rights, protecting and fostering civil rights and civil liberties in the United States for all people, and protecting freedom of expression.” Those were noble liberal causes . . . but one can’t help noticing that they also served Hefner’s own interests in enterprises that sexually objectified women for the gratification of men. It was a paradox for many grant seekers, especially for those who thought of themselves as feminists.
But Playboy Foundation grants went to some very good causes. Illinois Citizens for the Medical Control of Abortion, a legal reform group started in 1966, received one. It was through that group that the founder of the Chicago CCS, Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, first met University of Chicago doctoral candidate Ronald L. Hammerle. In 1968, the Chicago CCS received a Playboy grant that allowed Parsons to hire Hammerle as a full-time administrator for the group. Nationally, the CCS had almost no direct employees; only the Chicago CCS and the national group in New York seem to have found the means to hire a full-time (though temporary) employee through a grant.
Hammerle not only organized and administered the Chicago CCS but also reached out to organize CCS chapters in other Midwestern states and to find capable doctors. He collected follow-up reports from women about their experiences with doctors. Hammerle also kept statistics for the group and wrote his dissertation on the work of the CCS. His research provided statistics used by CCS clergy as they testified at state legislative hearings around the country. Women counseled by the Chicago clergy would never have dreamed that the referral service was partially funded by a Playboy Foundation grant.
When Hammerle’s year of full-time employment was done, Parsons and Hammerle decided not to reapply to the Playboy Foundation for funding. Hammerle moved on to work with the CCS’s New York City abortion clinic, Women’s Services, and then for Planned Parenthood in Chicago and Iowa. The CCS owed a great deal to Hammerle–and it was the Hefner business empire that had enabled the CCS to hire him.
The television series “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been a hit for Hulu, and won Elisabeth Moss an Emmy award. (Full disclosure: Margaret Atwood’s compelling and frightening book did not make either of us want to relive the experience as a drama . . . but we hear that it’s great.) Now Moss has signed on to a film project about the 1960s women’s abortion collective Jane–a group that began by referring Chicago women to a safe abortion practitioner. When the women discovered that the provider was not actually a physician, they realized that they themselves could learn to perform abortions–and they did. Jane and the Chicago Clergy Consultation Service had a respectful relationship: the clergy had national contacts as well as social and legal standing as clergy; Jane could offer low-cost local abortions, while the CCS generally referred out of state. For the full story, we highly recommend Laura Kaplan’s book The Story of Jane.
It was five years ago now that Rev. Howard Moody died. He was a founder of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. He was always its spokesperson, chief motivator, trainer, defender, and conscience, and yet always modest about the role he had played. In administering the group, he and Arlene Carmen made sure that the safety and dignity of women came first.
But he was first and foremost a prophetic preacher and pastor, and the CCS was only one of the many causes he championed. Under his ministry, Judson Memorial Church was a home for progressive people of many faiths, a haven for avant garde art, and the birthplace of modern dance. He worked for civil rights, fair housing, healthcare for sex workers, and the reform of drug laws, and many other causes, and he inspired generations of ministers and activists. His New York Times obituary gives a quick overview; you can get a better sense of his vision and work from his memoir, A Voice in the Village.
Even in retirement, Moody was so busy that it was always hard to pin him down. Both of us suffer from phone phobia, and it took many phone calls to arrange our first meeting with him. But once we finally met Howard and Lorry in person, we immediately wished to be adopted into their family–and, no doubt like everyone who met them, we felt that we had been. We visited with them whenever we were in New York City, and when we met them at their home in Santa Barbara, they took us out to a wonderful brunch. Howard was generous with his time and recollections, and with us. He was compassionate, a passionate advocate on behalf of others, charming, funny, bold, inspiring, and prophetic. How lucky we were to know him.
D.A. Dirks and Dr. Willie Parker meet again, at least on the Seminary Co-op Bookstore‘s new podcast, Open Stacks. This episode, “Faith in Choice,” combines their separate Co-op events from this summer. D.A. talks with Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar, associate professor of Christian ethics at Loyola University Chicago, about the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. Dr. Parker, author of Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, talks with Dr. Melissa Gilliam, a gynecologist professor at the University of Chicago, about his journey to become an abortion provider in the Deep South. At the June 22, 2017 event, D.A. was delighted to find among the audience a good friend of the late Rev. Dr. Spencer Parsons, chair of the Chicago CCS, and you’ll hear her addition to the conversation during the podcast. Click here to listen or find the Open Stacks podcast on iTunes and elsewhere.