Legacies of the CCS

A new year’s look back: 40th anniversary of the Clergy Consultation Service

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.”

Lorry and Howard Moody
Lorry and Howard Moody, May 2007

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.”

Ignacio Castuera and Tom Davis
Rev. Ignacio Castuera, then chaplain of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Rev. Tom Davis, longtime chair of PPFA’s Clergy Advisory Board, May 2007

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.

Rev. E. Spencer Parsons and Rev. Donna Schaper
Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, founder of Chicago CCS, and Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church, May 2007
Abortion Access Today, Legacies of the CCS

Clergy advocate for women’s health–again–in New York State

A new generation of clergy–and at least one minister who was part of the original Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion in the 1960s, Rev. Tom Davis–showed support for women’s health care and reproductive rights in Albany, New York, last week. They “condemned the recent actions of the federal government to eliminate protections and funding for health care,” according to Legislative Gazette reporter Sarah Eames.

As state senator Liz Krueger said, “‘The true fight for the rights of women to make their own decisions with their doctors about reproductive health has been led by clergy in the state for decades,’ Krueger said. ‘Long before we actually passed the law in 1970, it was clergy helping through a then-illegal network to assure that women could find safe kinds of healthcare for themselves.’”.

Davis was honored for his work with the CCS by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.

Read the full article by Sarah Eames for The Legislative Gazette here.

Photo of New York State legislature:
(c) Can Stock Photo / demerzel21

Legacies of the CCS

How clergy led the outpatient revolution

Have you ever had a breast biopsy? Endoscopy? Arthroscopic knee surgery? Gall bladder removal? D&C? Vasectomy? Chances are, if you’ve had any of those surgical procedures in the United States in the last 20 years or so, you didn’t stay overnight in the hospital. You walked in and walked—or at least wheeled—out again the same day.

It wasn’t always so. In the 1960s, knee surgery, vasectomy, even D&Cs and legal abortions (usually approved by a committee of doctors only in cases of serious threat to the woman’s life) involved a hospital stay of one or more nights. It was accepted medical practice.

But from 1967 to 1970, many thousands of women were obtaining safe abortions—usually illegally—on an outpatient basis, referred to licensed physicians by the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS). The ministers and rabbis of the CCS gave women information on how to contact doctors who performed abortions safely in their offices or in hotel rooms, houses, or apartments. Women walked in, had the procedure, and walked out an hour or two later, usually with no ill effects. They could be back at work in just a couple of days.

In 1970, New York State legalized abortion. By that time the CCS had referred thousands of women for abortion, nearly all as outpatients, without a single death. They invited a doctor to whom they had referred many women, and who had been praised as competent and caring by his patients, to help open an outpatient abortion clinic in New York City on the day abortion became legal.

The clinic, known as Women’s Services, set a standard for compassionate care. Women counselors accompanied patients through the entire procedure; the offices were decorated with colorful posters to offer a welcoming environment; snacks were available during recovery, since patients had not eaten for hours before the procedure. Women flocked to the clinic from across the country, often flying in and home again the same day.

The high volume of patients offered an unprecedented study opportunity. In 1972, the then director of the clinic, Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson (later an anti-abortion activist), published in the New England Journal of Medicine a study of the 26,000 patients served in the first year of the clinic’s operation. There had been no known deaths and a very low rate of complication for first-trimester abortions at the clinic, proof that a procedure that traditionally required a hospital stay could be done safely and much less expensively on an outpatient basis.

Women’s Services later helped to pioneer outpatient breast biopsies—another procedure that had previously required a hospital admission. And there was discussion of creating an outpatient birthing center (though that plan never came to fruition). Outpatient surgery and procedures grew in scope through the 1980s up to the present day. Now dozens of kinds of routine surgical procedures are offered on an outpatient basis. Patients avoid a hospital stay, save money, and often recover more quickly. And the pioneers of this revolution were those ministers and rabbis of the CCS, who just wanted to offer women compassion.

Photo: (c) Can Stock Photo / EyeMark