Roe

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Well, It’s Happening

Long before the Supreme Court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was a privacy issue, I helped a few friends obtain illegal abortions. They had no choice. I almost had one myself, but chickened out on the steps of the abortionist’s old row house in Newark, New Jersey.

Prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, most women I knew had a secret contact closeted away in the flap of her wallet or scotch-taped to a page in her locked diary. The Supreme Court ended that phase of our lives. No longer would we meet in secret and whisper in corners about where to go for an abortion. 

One year I drove a group of friends from New Jersey to a roadside motel outside of Baltimore. There were two girls to a room. It cost two hundred bucks, paid for with babysitting earnings or waitressing tips. Where did I get the abortionist’s name and number? I have no idea. But I do know this: in the 1960s my friends knew I could and would help them.

The Roe v. Wade decision came as a surprise. I had paid attention, written to Washington in support of the decision and sent plenty of letters to the editor. But I never expected Roe to become the law of the land. It seemed preposterous. Born-again Christians had just started flowering in the 1970s. Hell, I was one myself. I even joined a Christian cult. But anti-abortion wasn’t the primary cause at the beginning of the Christian Right movement. They took aim at teaching creationism in the schools and working against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. To the Moral Majority, the ERA was—and still is—a threat to what they call traditional family values. And I call traditional patriarchal values.

“We certainly can’t have women exercising the same rights as men!”

In the five decades that the right to choose has been law in the United States, a steady, ever-escalating squall has been battering its shutters. I know women and men who have worked tirelessly to keep abortion legal, as if any day now the Supreme Court would unlatch and reverse their 1973 decision. I never really believed it would or could happen. It just seemed preposterous.

Well, it’s happening.

A leaked memo written in early 2022 by Supreme Court Justice Alito tells us the Court is on the brink of reversing Roe.

Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” writes Alito.

There are enough conservative judges on that bench to reverse Roe when they vote sometime before the end of the 2022 session. Abortion laws will go back to the states. Contact information will once again be squirreled away in secret places. An underground railroad of frightened teenage girls will stream into Illinois where abortion is legal. And when we send them back home, there’s no telling if they’ll be discovered and arrested for the crime of having an abortion.

As for me, I will make a bed for any girl who manages to find her way to my door.

Out of the Closet: I Am A Christian

Out of the Closet: I Am A Christian

“We have this totally warped idea of what Christianity should be like when it comes to the public sphere, and it’s mostly about exclusion….no matter where you are politically, the gospel is so much about inclusion and decency and humility and care for the least among us. (How does ) a wealthy, powerful, chest-thumping, self-oriented, philandering figure like (Donald Trump) have any credibility at all among religious people.” – Pete Buttigieg

The Moral Majority, established in 1979, was predominately a Southern-oriented organization of the Republican Party’s Christian Right, but its national influence grew throughout the 1980s to the point where I was embarrassed to call myself a Christian. It was already hard, since I grew up in the Catholic church where only Protestants called themselves Christian. Catholics never did. Because of Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s reclaiming Christianity for the Democratic Party, I can finally come out of the closet. I am a Christian.

When I marched into a church confessional and announced to the priest I no longer believed salvation was available to Catholics only, he said, “then you are no longer a Catholic.” I expected more of an argument, but at age 18, I felt I’d been set free. And adrift.

Until that moment, through all the alcoholic parental rages, multiple midnight moves, changes in schools and churches, only one place made me feel at home—the pew on Sunday morning where I heard Jesus loved me. 

Daniel and Philip Berrigan were my heroes then. The brothers were Catholic priests who’d been convicted of destroying military draft records in protest to the Vietnam war. I searched for a pew in their radical faith, but stumbled instead into the despair of drug and alcohol addiction. Another patriarchal Christian (but non-Catholic) church found me and delivered the familial message, Jesus loves you. Desperate to belong, I swallowed their conservative biblical fundamentalism for four years before I fled that oppressive pew. 

I tried to be a non-churchgoer. It was impossible. I’m at home in a pew on Sunday morning. I sought a simple pew in a simple church. They are easy to find, those simple churches. I hopped from one to the other long enough to know people by their names, feeling satisfied but longing for a more high-octane Jesus message. A lot of post-Watergate Christian pulpits were delivering bromides—safe words and a kindly gospel. Where was the social gospel of the Berrigans, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King? Where were the Christian anarchists?

I lamented to a friend who suggested Fourth Presbyterian Church. For the first few years FourthPresbyterianChurchChicagoat Chicago’s Gold Coast Gothic Revival landmark, I arrived late and left early. I sat in the last pew, never opened the pew Bible, the songbook or recited the prayers. I didn’t belong there. I didn’t have the right clothes, right politics or right job. Indeed, I had no right to sit in well-ordered Presbyterianism.

Gradually I moved closer to the pulpit. I wanted to catch every word of Reverend Elam Davies’ sermons. Davies was slight of build, but a mighty orator. His spoken words came from deep inside his heritage, as if the whole of his native Wales was belting them out.

The first ten minutes of every sermon had me in sorrow. Sorrow for my selfishness, sorrow for my recklessness, sorrow for my sins. The next ten minutes had me laughing. Laughing for joy that Jesus knew all those sorrows and loved me anyway. The last ten minutes moved me to action. Action to protest policies that deprived people of basic human rights, action to help relieve indignities suffered by the victims of such policies.

When Elam Davies retired in 1984, I thought I’d be on the prowl for another pew. But each of the succeeding preachers have delivered similar bedrock messages that tell me every week: Jesus loves you. It’s been almost forty years since I first hid in that pew on North Michigan Avenue. I may not belong there still, but I no longer hide and the preaching makes me feel at home.