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.
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.