Drawing Courage from Pre-Roe Clergy Activism

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]These are uncertain days for women. What if we lose Roe v. Wade?  The question can be worrisome — until we remember how progressive faith leaders boldly responded to bans on abortion just before Roe.

Starting 50 years ago, clergy acted on conscience to defy abortion bans through a network called the Clergy Consultation Service (CCS). They were horrified at the way laws in all 50 states limited women’s freedom and left only dangerous options for ending a pregnancy — brutal back-alley abortions or self-harm to induce miscarriage.

CCS Collage
From left to right, Rev. Peggy Howland, Rabbi Harold Kudan, Rev. Robert Tiller, Rev. Finley Schaef and Rev. Howard Moody.

All of these faith leaders’ Christian and Jewish traditions shared a core belief: Care for people in need took precedence over obeying what they considered unjust laws.

Ministers, rabbis, and some nuns and priests worked quietly in CCS for six years before Roe v. Wade. They offered all-options counseling and, when requested, referrals to safe but still illegal abortions. After Roe, as interfaith advocacy on women’s reproductive issues continued, today’s Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice evolved.

Being Present for Women

Some women who used CCS were married with up to five children. Some had become pregnant in abusive marriages. Others were unmarried students in a time when sexuality was taboo and single motherhood unacceptable.  

For CCS clergy counselors, listening and supporting women impartially was crucial. They believed firmly that women have God-given moral authority to make their own life decisions. As counselors, their goal was to assure that each woman decided according to her own conscience without coercion by others.

For pregnant women who opted for illegal abortions, CCS’s provider referrals could mean the difference between gentler treatment in a clean environment and a situation of secrecy and fear. That secrecy sometimes included identification by passwords, catching rides to appointments from obscure meeting places and procedures performed in houses by masked doctors.

Even now former CCS counselors have said they’d do it all again if needed.

Our Roots in CCS

At RCRC, we have always taken great pride in those brave clergy who in forming CCS also planted our roots.

Following their example, we have for years been training faith leaders to provide compassionate care for reproductive decision making. This year, we’re also teaching compassionate care for reproductive losses such as miscarriage, adoption or abortion.

And we’re retelling this CCS history now, when the same prophetic sense of justice and humanity must again inspire us to protect hard-won reproductive freedoms.

Remember the Past

Although CCS has been the subject of books, articles and documentaries, it still isn’t widely known, particularly among women born since Roe.

We’re making learning about it easier. We’ve created an interactive time line on our website, telling the story on video in the voices of faith leaders’ who lived it, and in photos and graphics.

The courage and conviction shown by CCS clergy sustains RCRC as we continue bringing much-needed progressive religious voices to the intersectional struggle for reproductive freedom now. May it help you find new strength for this fight as well.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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