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.
So many gems to recommend in the August 4 episode of the NPR program “On the Media,” which devotes itself entirely to the topic of abortion . . . Host Brooke Gladstone talks with with Harvard historian (and New Yorker writer) Jill Lepore about the 1950s and ’60s, when it was generally Republicans who favored access to contraception and abortion–and how that changed. Then Gladstone speaks with Sherri Chessen, now 85, about the obstacles she faced in 1962 when she, a “Romper Room” program host then known as Sherri Finkbine, sought an abortion after taking thalidomide during pregnancy. Chessen went public in order to warn other women of the dangers of the drug; she wound up setting of a media firestorm. Chessen speaks eloquently about her experience and its ramifications. Then the wonderful Dr. Leah Torres, a Utah OB/GYN describes with sanity and humor how she has dealt with restrictive state abortion laws, requirements that she provide patients with incorrect information, and the state legislators who made those laws. Finally, scholar Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, gives one of the most compelling explanations we’ve heard for why reproductive justice, a term framed by women of color to encompass much more than just the legality of abortion, should replace the term pro-choice. We touched upon all of these topics in To Offer Compassion, and Brooke Gladstone has provided depth and color commentary. Highly recommended.
Publishers urge authors not to read the customer reviews of their books on Amazon, but we did sneak a peek at the single review posted so far. For your enjoyment, this glowing recommendation:
Agree or not, feel free to post your own review at Amazon, Goodreads, or elsewhere.
Episode 70–titled “Procedure”–of the always fascinating podcast “Criminal” features several Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion members talking about their experience. Rev. Finley Schaef, Rabbi Harold Kudan, Rev. Barbara Gerlach, and Rev. Robert Hare are interviewed, as is scholar Gillian Frank, who is researching the CCS. You can download the podcast via iTunes or other service, or listen to it here. “Criminal” is a part of the Radiotopia network, and was created by Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer.
Over the years, we’ve lost many of the great figures of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion–Rev. Howard Moody, Arlene Carmen, Rev. Spencer Parsons, and others. And, just since the 50th anniversary of the group, we’ve received word of the passing of three more of the mightiest activists.
Rev. Marvin Lutz was a Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Jacksonville, Florida, CCS. He headed that group’s successful efforts to open a nonprofit outpatient abortion clinic there–a clinic that became a model for others. It became known as the Max Suter Women’s Center for Reproductive Health, and he continued as its executive director for 20 years. He passed away on April 23, 2017, at the age of 83.
Rev. Allen J. Hinand, courtesy of his family
Rev. Allen J. Hinand was an American Baptist minister, one of the first friends Rev. Howard Moody called on to expand the CCS outside of New York. A civil rights and anti-war activist, Rev. Hinand founded and chaired the Pennsylvania CCS, which, by patiently educating local physicians, successfully persuaded Philadelphia hospitals to provide abortion care. He took special care to devolve power to women–including laywomen–who ultimately led the CCS in Pennsylvania. He died on June 18, 2017, in Claremont, California.
Liz Canfield, via Legacy.com
Elizabeth Kanitz Canfield was an Austrian immigrant–a refugee from Hitler’s invasion in 1938. She provided contraceptive education and–in those days–contraceptive foam to Hispanic farmworkers in the 1950s in Southern California. In the 1960s, she helped to found the Los Angeles Free Clinic, helped to liberalize the California abortion law, and was the co-founder of the Los Angeles CCS. She continued her activism in Albuquerque, advocating for and working with people with HIV/AIDS. She died on June 25, 2017.
We are grateful to have had the opportunity to meet all three of these great justice warriors, if only through telephone conversations. Their work lives on in the thousands of people they helped, the amazing organizations they led, and their own inspiring stories.