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Clergyman says faith need not bar aiding fight for abortion rights

Opponents of abortion often cite religious reasons for their opposition.

But the Rev. Tom Davis says he sees the fight on behalf of women and their reproductive rights as sacred work.

Clergy in particular were at the forefront of helping women receive contraception, as well as safe and affordable abortions, before the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide in 1972, said Davis, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and chairman of the Clergy Advisory Board of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Davis spoke for about an hour Wednesday during a Planned Parenthood of Western New York luncheon in Sonoma Grille in Amherst, as word of the Supreme Court's latest abortion ruling spread.

"His comments today couldn't be more relevant, especially considering the hostile climate in which we find ourselves," said Laura Meyers, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Western New York.

During his talk, Davis did not discuss the court's 5-4 ruling Wednesday that upholds a federal ban on late-term abortions, although he said in an interview afterward that the decision was disappointing.

About 60 people, including some Protestant clergy and a rabbi, attended the lunch.

The author of "Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances" recalled several instances in the last 50 years in which clergy were instrumental in advancing women's rights.

In pushing to make birth control accessible, Margaret Sanger in 1954 appealed to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA, Davis said.

In 1962, a Baltimore rabbi went before the Maryland Board of Welfare to argue in favor of public hospitals providing contraception.

"You needed clergy to open those doors, because this is a religious country and these were moral disputes," Davis said.

Perhaps most dramatically, in 1967, a group of clergy known as the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion -- which first formed in New York City and spread to cities nationwide -- announced publicly that it would provide referral services for women in need of abortions.

Between 1967 and 1970, the year New York State legalized abortions, the group probably referred as many as 100,000 women to qualified doctors for abortions, Davis said.

And in 1970, the group opened the first legal abortion clinic in the country.

Davis said Scripture specifically calls upon individuals to look after women, children and strangers in their midst.

"When you take care of those groups, that's sacred work, that's the work of justice," he said.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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