News & Reviews

August 2019: To Offer Compassion has just been issued in paperback!  ISBN 978-0-299-31134-6

Yahoo News 360, May 15, 2019, “Reproductive rights fight: Breaking down the abortion battle,” quotes from our Cincinnati Enquirer opinion piece:

“Anyone old enough to remember the 1960s will recall the time when abortion was illegal in nearly every state. By the logic of the heartbeat bill, that should have meant there were no abortions, or very few. On the contrary: there were about a million abortions a year in the U.S., and only about 8,000 of those were performed in hospitals.”


From a review by Rebecca Stephens, professor of English and coordinator of the women’s and gender studies program at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, in Resources for Gender and Women’s Studies: A Feminist Review, v. 39, nos. 3 & 4, summer-fall 2018, 31-32:

. . . This book is a history of a particular and singular group, but connections are made throughout to the network of other groups working toward legalization in the years leading up to the Roe v. Wade decision and to what activists today can learn from the CCS’s legacy. . . .

This book would be a valuable addition to university library, public library, and personal collections, and excerpts would make excellent readings for women’s and gender studies classes. The chapters are structured in a way that would allow assigning individual chapters or sections as stand-alone readings for a course, but there is an overall narrative arc that makes the whole an enjoyable and informative read as well. The writing is lively, and the descriptions of the dynamic figures in the CCS, especially founding members Arlene Carmen and Rev. Howard Moody, really bring the history alive. To Offer Compassion is a useful glimpse into a little-known piece of the past at a time when such a glimpse is especially relevant to the present.


Storyboard Entertainment has acquired the feature film rights for To Offer Compassion, and Kor Adana, a writer/producer for the TV show Mr. Robot, is on tap to write and produce the film. We’ve been named as co-producers, a brand new title for us! Find details in a March 5, 2019 article by Anita Busch for Deadline.


From a review by Daniel K. Williams of the University of West Georgia in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, June 2018:

. . . No historian has ever conducted such a large-scale oral history project of the clergy who supported abortion rights in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In addition, Dirks and Relf also gained exclusive access to Moody’s CCS archives, a collection that is currently closed to other researchers. This book, therefore, offers an unparalleled, detailed study of the CCS that is not likely to be duplicated. . . .


“Faith Matters” columnist Bill Tammeus’s review, July 7, 2018:

To Offer Compassion: A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, by Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf. Back in the late 1960s, before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, many women were getting unsafe abortions from secretive, illegal providers — and sometimes dying of the process. So a group of Christian and Jewish members of the clergy in New York banded together to “counsel and refer women to licensed doctors for safe abortions,” this book reports. By the time of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, hundreds of clergy members across the country had provided this service. This book tells their story in a thorough and affirmative way. As the introduction notes, “From today’s vantage point, the work of the CCS was not just a compassionate pastoral answer to an immediate need — it was also prophetic.” I wasn’t aware of this book when it was published last year, but a friend I ran into at the recent annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists alerted me to it and asked author Relf to get me a review copy. Glad she did. If, before reading this book, you want to read a magazine-length piece about the work of the CCS, The Atlantic wrote this piece in 2016. At the center of our Culture Wars, abortion again is getting lots of attention these days because of the impending new justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, so the book is timely and its message on point. This books focuses not so much on the bitter political battles over abortion, though it certainly deals with that, but, more, on the need for pastoral care of women and whole families in crisis.


Listen to D.A. Dirks and Pat Relf’s radio interview on “The 21st” with Niala Boodhoo on WILL FM, Illinois Public Media, from Thursday, June 22, 2017.


Listen to D.A. Dirks and Pat Relf’s radio interview on “A Public Affair” with Carousel Bayrd on WORT FM in Madison from Tuesday, June 6, 2017 (available until August 4).


Publishers Weekly starred review:

“Conservative Christianity has become synonymous with opposition to abortion, but before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it in the U.S., clergy organized to protect pregnant women and direct them to safe abortions. Dirks and Relf explore this extraordinary and little-known history through detailed first-person interviews and extensive research with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who, between 1967 and 1973, created a pregnancy counseling service and national underground network to provide women with options for adoption, parenting assistance, and pregnancy termination. At the time, deaths from botched abortions, including self-induced ones, were estimated at 5,000 a year—though they were likely much higher—and were disproportionately among women of color, who had the least financial resources. These clergy pioneered the first “counselor-oriented clinics” and proved abortion could be a safe outpatient procedure. Dirks and Relf provide critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget. (May)


Cynthia Gorney, author of Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars:

“This compelling history explores one of the twentieth century’s most unusual religious endeavors–the collective defiance of American clergy who were willing to help direct women to illegal but safe abortions. No previous account of the Clergy Consultation Service has told their whole story so thoroughly and vividly.”