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.
Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago asked us for a selected list of books related to To Offer Compassion. Check the link for some of our favorites, ranging from everything-that-is-old-is-new-again (Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed, 1970) to recent publications (Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutiérrez, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice). Chicagoans will be especially interested in Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, and The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan. Check the bookstore link for our full list, with our notes on each book!
A June 10 article in the New York Times—“Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game,” by Laurie Goodstein– overlooked the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion–a pivotal religious progressive movement of the 1960s that is undergoing a revival today. Actually, pro-choice clergy never really “sat out”; over the last 40 years, a small but active contingent of clergy, some of them original CCS members and others who have took up their cause of compassion, have worked with Planned Parenthood, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and other groups to advocate for reproductive rights. Over those years, although they remained active as pro-choice policy advocates, their voices have often been drowned out by the louder voices of religious anti-abortion activists. But clergy and people of faith—such as Rev. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church in New York City (a CCS member when she was a seminary student in Chicago) and Christian physician Willie Parker–are now reclaiming a religious voice for the reproductive justice movement, and there is discussion of reviving the CCS for this new era. A new, more diverse CCS is likely to emerge, emphasizing the way reproductive rights intersect with related concerns–racism, gender, poverty, immigration, and healthcare in general.
In observance of the 50th anniversary of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story on the group. NPR reporter Sarah McCammon spoke with two former CCS counselors, Rev. Barbara Gerlach and CCS co-founder Rev. Finley Schaef, both of whom were present at Judson Memorial Church’s celebration on May 21. McCammon also interviewed Rev. Loey Powell, who was a college student when she consulted the Clergy Consultation Service. Powell told NPR, “. . . to be with someone who was non-judgmental, who was not making assumptions either about the circumstances of how I got pregnant or what the consequences are of that situation, it was very positive for me to go through that.”
Listen to the full story here.
Photo: Rev. Finley Schaef speaking at Judson on May 21
Latishia James writes for Rewire: “I’ve had the privilege of sitting across from someone who was about to or just had an abortion, and I can attest to the impact of hearing that story. Listening to someone who’s had or is considering having an abortion share their hopes and fears goes a long way in shifting perspective. But perhaps more importantly, it goes a long way in helping you separate your own personal feelings from your ability to simply be present for someone else in a time of need.”
And she goes on to describe the many practical ways clergy–and other people of faith–can show compassion for women in need of reproductive healthcare, from public advocacy and preaching to simply being present, supporting and listening to women, one to one. Read the full article at Rewire.
Follow Rev. James on Twitter @PurposefullyLJ.
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
On May 22, 1967, at a time when abortion was illegal in the United States, an article on the front page of the New York Times announced that twenty-one New York City clergy would counsel and refer women to licensed doctors for safe abortions. The group called itself the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).
Not many people know the story of the CCS. Some of the loudest speakers in the debate about abortion access since Roe v Wade have been conservative religious voices, leading the general public to believe that people of faith, especially the clergy, were opposed to abortion. There has been a relentless attack on women’s access to abortion since the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973. According to research published in 2016 by the Guttmacher Institute, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions just since 2010, constituting 30% of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since Roe v Wade. On March 6, 2017, the White House proposed preserving federal payments to Planned Parenthood only if it discontinues providing abortions. Congressional Republicans have said that they will move quickly to strip all federal funds from Planned Parenthood.
As the 50th anniversary of the CCS approaches in May, we think about the network of some 3,000 clergy who referred as many as 450,000 women for safe abortions between 1967 and 1973, and if that kind of service will be needed again. The clergy we interviewed for our book came of age during the 1950s and 1960s and were at the forefront of the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s rights movements.
When we first starting researching the CCS in 2002, we wondered where the voices of progressive clergy were in the social justice movements of the 21st century. Now we are starting to hear those voices being raised once more. In recent weeks, clergy and religious organizations have spoken out on transgender civil rights. More than 1,800 religious leaders signed on to an amicus brief on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a trans student who has fought for the right to use a high school restroom that aligns with his gender identity. And a broad network of 37 Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations announced a campaign to mobilize congregants to lobby Congress and the president on behalf of immigrant, refugee, and undocumented people.
We are experiencing divisive and turbulent times. But we are heartened to see clergy and religious organizations standing with those individuals or groups who are targets of attack by right wing individuals and organizations. The CCS provides a historical example of how clergy acted to help women get safe abortions when they were illegal. The CCS also can provide an example for how to resist and organize against oppressive governments and legislation today.