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TSPR Commentaries

Commentary: We can't go back

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Monica Corsaro

In the words of Alanis Morissette, isn’t it ironic, as I sit here trying to put my thoughts together, I have just listened to two stories, one after the other. The first one: what a woman will do if she finds herself desperate not to be pregnant. As the nurse said in the interview, she will most likely die. Why? Because she cannot get a safe abortion. She will do whatever it takes to end the pregnancy, often risking her life and then when she is in physical trouble, will not seek out proper healthcare, because she is afraid she will be arrested, and so instead she will die.

Seems ridiculous but this was the United States before 1973, women dying because they were pregnant.

The second a story I heard that day was about the baby formula shortage in the United States. Now babies in the richest land in the world are starving to death because they cannot be fed. Isn’t it ironic, we let women die for the babies, only to let them die when they get here.

I find my head hurting and my heart aching at the state of the affairs at this moment, and where they are going.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned women and persons with ovaries will die. And yes, while Illinois will be one of the “safest” states to be in since we have codified our law protecting a person’s right to an abortion; all the states around us will be unsafe.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois says an estimated 30,000 women will cross our borders to be able to get a safe, legal abortion (and those are the ones who have the means and can afford to).

Isn’t it ironic that in the name of “life” there will be so much death, especially to people of color and poor people, all in the name of religion?

Let’s talk a little bit about religion now shall we, I am first going to begin with me. I am a Christian and I am unapologetically pro a person’s own agency and autonomy.

I am not the only Christian who believes so. But more on that in a moment. In my undergraduate days, I was brought into the Choice movement when one of my ministers invited me to a march to support the Bloomington Planned Parenthood. It was a fun festive day of families with children with a carnival like atmosphere celebrating affordable, safe healthcare for all, remember that includes having healthy cared for babies.

Fast forward a few years and BUSH 2 is elected the first act he does when elected President by Executive Order was to sign the International Gag Rule. What was that?

It meant doctors who were in countries that received USAID money could not even discuss abortion as an option in their health clinics. Yes, our government is telling doctors in another country how to practice. We actually do here to, look up the Hyde Amendment.

All in the name of family values and life, isn’t it ironic?

This was also the era of abstinence only sex education the Federal government’s preferred way to teach, and they threatened states with if you do not use it, we will not send you funds, isn’t it ironic?

Abstinence only is not science based or age appropriate based, but supported heavily by the religious right and so began the era that if you went through middle school in Reagan’s 1980’s you got a better sex education class than your now sons or daughters were getting it in the 2000’s.

In the 2000’s sex education was fear based, not scientifically accurate and with religious right undertones. Did you know French kissing causes chlamydia? NO is it doesn’t but that is what kids were being taught. I know because I used to sit in legislative hearings and listen to teenagers report what was happening in their schools.

Why was I doing that you might ask, remember when I got introduced to Planned Parenthood well that began a relationship of me volunteering with them from graduate school days in Colorado, to my early ministry days in Spokane Washington, it was there I headed up the clergy advisory board, yes Planned Parenthood had and still has clergy advisory boards.

Wait religious people are pro-choice, let me say it loudly and proudly YES. And because of my good work there I was recruited in Seattle to become the first ever full-time chaplain in the Planned Parenthood Federation of America working for the affiliates from across Washington State and in Oregon. My job was to educate and advocate.

I brought together interfaith leaders who already cared about religious freedom, and a person’s autonomy and got the intersection of both. Above all we believed and believe God trusts women and those persons with ovaries.

I trained the religious leaders to lobby legislators, and they in turn would speak on panels, write letters to the editors (I taught them that too) and be the voice for the voiceless, educating the non-religious that almost all religions, to put it simply, and bluntly, pro-choice.

I may have been the first chaplain to Planned Parenthood but I am not the first person religious to have put myself on the front lines for this battle, I am honored to be inspired by a whole generation before me.

Have you all heard of the Clergy Consultation Service, I imagine many of you haven’t, but did you know in May of 1967, an anniversary now I hope you all will remember, the Clergy Consultation Service was created.

Mainline Protestants and Reform Jews in New York City, called for the liberalization of abortion laws. These leaders seeing the death all around them counseling family members of lost mothers, sisters, and daughters to botched abortions founded the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS), it became an international network of clergy that helped women obtain legal and illegal abortions from licensed medical professionals. The CCS grew quickly and at one time it counted over 2,000 ministers and rabbi’s from across the United States and Canada as members.

Remember the good old days? The 1950s and 1960s, between 200,000 and 1.2 million women sought to obtain illegal abortions. By the end of 1972, the CCS had helped between a quarter and half a million women obtain safe legal and illegal abortions from physicians, sacred lives saved.

CCS members also went to their state legislators to demand the repeal of abortion laws. They in full view of the public testified for that cause. Here is an example of such testimony by the Reverend Carl Bielby, leader of Michigan’s CCS testifying at a public hearing in 1968, representing the Michigan Council of Churches.

This is what he said: “As a matter of human right, each woman be given the control of her own body and procreative function, and that she has the moral responsibility and obligation for the just and sober stewardship thereof.”

Likewise, Reverend Allen Hinand of the Philadelphia CCS proclaimed at a 1972 legislative hearing that it was time for women to “rise up and take control of a situation and a choice that belongs to them as females.”

Most importantly, CCS clergy emphasized that no single religion had a right to impose its religious values upon others. For these clergy, freedom of religion had to include freedom from those religious groups that sought to place restrictions on abortions.

So you see before there was a “pro-life” movement made up and led by a very politicalized and relatively small number of a very specific group of Christians using the agency of women for their own purposes of control and power, there were many from a diversity of faith traditions who while did not take the texts literally they took them seriously and for they I am grateful. And that in my work have gotten to meet some of the these sheroes and heroes.

And if I once again need to escort, companion with, raise money for, supply a place to stay, testify on behalf of, clinic defend, I will because that is my understanding of my call, to be where God encourages me to be… with the most vulnerable, because after all in my tradition that is where Jesus was, isn’t it ironic he chose to die so others may live.

Monica Corsaro is a United Methodist clergy and member of the Interfaith Collective in Galesburg. 

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or its license holder, Western Illinois University.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.