With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The Underground Network of Ministers and Rabbis Aiding Abortion Access Before Roe

In the unnatural light of the doctor’s office, Lucy, a student at Kent State, remembers a faint prickle of awareness that the gynecologist seemed uncomfortable, like he was talking around something. “Well ... you’re two months pregnant,” he eventually stammered. She stared at him, stunned. He got up and left the room. “Oh my gosh, what am I gonna do?” Lucy said. One of the nurses handed her a card with a phone number. “They will help you. They know who we are, and it’s safe.” No one ever said the word abortion. It was 1971.

When she called, the voice at the other end of the line told her they would take care of everything for a flat fee—transportation to and from the airport, plane tickets, a car to the clinic in Dobbs Ferry, New York, where abortion had been legalized, as well as her way home. A driver came and picked her up at her dormitory to take her to the airport, and she noticed another girl sitting inside the car. When she arrived in New York, a man was waiting at La Guardia Airport to shepherd her and several other women into three vans.

At the clinic, they were met by a woman with a perfunctory manner who handed out paperwork. They would go back and change out of their clothes when their names were called, they would have their abortions, rest awhile, and then they would get dressed, go home, and live out their lives.

Lucy didn’t know it, but the clinic in Dobbs Ferry belonged to a network of vetted facilities that was trusted by the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS), a group of faith leaders who connected women who needed abortion care with capable providers in the years before Roe v. Wade, driven by their God-given commandment to help those in need. Though CCS began in New York City, their mission spread, and it wasn’t long before there were chapters scattered across the nation.

Rev. William Kirby, a leader in the Missouri chapter and then a chaplain at Stephens College, a private women’s school in Columbia, Missouri, described getting students from the campus to Dobbs Ferry. They were shuttled to the St. Louis airport, where they would catch an American Airlines flight to La Guardia, using a specific American Airlines flight because a nurse that worked with them had trained the flight attendants so that they knew what to do if a woman began to hemorrhage on her journey home.

Read entire article at The New Republic