I’ve been gathering with a group of clergy to consider how we might organize when and if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. The group is moderately sized and religiously diverse. Some of us believe abortion is an evil that should be avoided, while others believe that abortion is a basic human right and morally neutral. A few of us are long-time supporters of “choice” while others have never taken a stand one way or another. We can all agree though, that when abortion is no longer accessible for large parts of the country, lives will be lost and suffering will be increased. As clergy, we have a role in ameliorating that harm.
2020 could be the year that Roe vs. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Laws in Alabama and Arkansas, limiting or outlawing abortions, are making their way to the court now. When Roe is overturned, at least 8 states have trigger laws which will make abortion illegal. Another 13 states are predicted to pass legislation to outlaw abortion.[i] Many court watchers believe the new conservative Supreme Court majority will overturn Roe returning us to the “bad old days” of unequal regional access.
Our group is reading, To Offer Compassion by Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf[ii]. The book tells the story of abortion access in the United States and how clergy organized in the days before Roe. Since we may soon find ourselves in a world in which wealthy and privileged women have access to abortion care while the poor and under-resourced do not. It begs the question, how will the church respond?
Beginning in 1967, the Clergy Consultation Service (CCS) “began as a small group of ministers and rabbis who saw the need—the desperation—of women seeking abortions under restrictive laws…the group has been called a kind of ‘underground abortion railroad.’”[iii] Clergy served their local communities by setting up a telephone consultation service by which local clergy met with women and referred them to abortion services. Using their privilege to shield the vulnerable, the clergy referred women to doctors across state lines in an attempt to complicate jurisdiction and make prosecution less likely. The CCS screened providers, making sure they were legitimate and treated their patients with respect. When the timeline of a woman’s pregnancy required it, the CCS connected with missionaries in Japan and Puerto Rico to send women abroad. The church stepped up and offered compassion when our country’s politics left women with few options.
Progressive clergy have a history and template for providing increased access to care. Who better than the church at organizing hospitality and care for women who will need to travel to new cities or states to receive an abortion? Who better at quietly referring community members to safe medical professionals and compassionate support systems? Desperate people will do dangerous, illegal and unsafe things and it seems to me that the church has a role to fill here.
Are you organizing your local community to provide access for the most under-resourced in your area? If you live in an area where abortion is likely to be protected, have you considered how you might become a center of hospitality? If, like me, you live in an area where abortion is likely to be made illegal, have you begun to organize how you might protect the lives of the women in your care? If you need a place to begin, I suggest starting with learning your history. Pick up a copy of To Offer Compassion and begin the hard work of prayer and planning with those around you.
[i] Bui, Quoctrung, Claire Cain Miller and Margo Sanger-Katz. New York Times. 18 July 2019. online edition. 26 July 2019.
[ii] Dirks, Doris A. and Patricia A. Relf. To Offer Compassion. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.
[iii] (Dirks and Relf 5)
Elizabeth Hakken Candido is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) Pastor who currently serves as the College Chaplain and Director of Religious & Spiritual Life at Kalamazoo College. Liz lives in Kalamazoo, MI with her husband Bob who is a pilot. They have two daughters, Clara and Abigail. Liz blogs at skepticsnbelievers.wordpress.com
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