My experience with Clergy Consultation Service in Dallas Texas.

Rev. Carl Boaz

For the NM House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee

Before Roe v. Wade, women died of self-induced or illegal back alley abortions. In 1965 alone, 17 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths were due to illegal abortions. These are just the reported numbers; the actual numbers are certainly much higher. It was no accident that the persons who decided in 1967 to defy the oppressive and unjust laws were clergy like myself. The Reverend Howard Moody of Judson Memorial Church in New York City, along with social justice activist Arlene Carmen, that knew that women needed reliable information on how and where to obtain a safe, but illegal, abortion. They founded the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. At the start, 21 ministers and rabbis were involved.

In 1970 I was the associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Richardson, Texas. I heard about the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service shortly after I got there. The Chaplain at Southern Methodist University and a Unitarian minister invited clergy from the greater Dallas Fort Worth area to a meeting and explained the plans to establish the CCS network in Dallas/Fort Worth. Of course, I had to get permission from my church to undertake this service to the community and they were happy to agree. At a subsequent meeting, Rev. Howard Moody came and talked with us about how to set up the service and we got underway. About 20-25 ministers committed to serve.

We took out a public recurring ad in the Dallas Morning News classifieds as counselors for problem pregnancies with free, confidential help. Rev. Moody’s strategy to avoid getting in trouble with the law — the charge for “aiding and abetting” an illegal abortion was a $1,000 fine and up to a year in prison — was total transparency. We wanted to operate out in the open, sending the message that we were choosing to defy man’s law in order to adhere to a higher law. But we knew we were taking a risk. One rabbi in Chicago had his files seized by the FBI. A minister in Ohio, was arrested and tried for illegally aiding a woman in obtaining an abortion.

Meanwhile, our network worked diligently at locating safe places for women to get abortions.  We only referred women to providers we knew were safe and regularly made surprise visits. We also provided our direct phone numbers to those who had to travel far distances in case they ran into problems. According to a 1971 CCS report, during the first three years, we referred nearly 100,000 women nationwide. By the time the of Roe v. Wade in 1973, over 2000 clergy were involved and with the legalization of abortion in New York State, we estimated that we may have reached nearly of a quarter of a million women.

I had several referrals that stand out in my memory. One was a Circus high-wire trapeze artist from Poland who did not speak English. She was pregnant when the circus came to Dallas. A male friend from Germany came with her and acted as her interpreter. They explained that if the circus manager found out she was pregnant, she would be deported immediately. So the two of them kept her secret between just them.  In those days, the women were advised not to do anything strenuous for several days afterward. But she could not afford to do that. Her companion reported back to me that the procedure went well and, because she was in such good shape, that she performed without incident and the show went on as usual.

I also remember a 19 year old girl who was referred to Women’s Services in New York City. She called me collect and very scared from New York because she couldn’t find the clinic. But after a few minutes, we got her on the right track and she found it. She called me afterward to thank me for helping to “save her life.”

I never judged women for the reasons they gave for needing an abortion. Instead, I trusted women’s judgment and helped them find a safe place to terminate their pregnancy.

I only refused once. I remember clearly an underage girl (I think I remember correctly that she was 16.) and her parents brought her to me. Her dad was very caustic in attitude and said, “We just want to get her cleaned out.” I asked to speak privately with the girl, who told me she did not want an abortion but wanted to have this child. So I informed the parents that I could not help them and they went away angry with me.

Most all of the referrals went without a hitch. I never had a case where a woman came to any harm. Of course, we were all very grateful when Roe v. Wade passed in 1973 and our work was not needed any longer.

I never judged women for the reasons they gave for needing an abortion. Instead, I trusted women’s judgment and helped them find a safe place to terminate their pregnancy.

 

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