“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.”