In 1973 the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, and from that point on, women in the United States had access to safe medical abortions. This was partly due to an activist group that formed in the late 1960’s comprised of medical professionals and an unlikely combination of religious clerics from Baptist ministers to Jewish rabbis. There were 1400 across the country, who lobbied for legalized abortion while secretly offering places for women to get the help they needed. The Pendulum Swings is written in memory of the thousands of women who lost their lives, some in the arms of their religious confidants, and of the brave spiritual leaders who saw the injustice and acted. The intolerance of a patriarchal society was recognized by this group and summed up in the following quote by persons unknown… “There really can be no justification for treating fetal life as if fully human, when existent female human persons are not valued at least to the same degree.” Today, in 2018, this conflict continues, only now religious groups are acting against a woman’s choice. With this in mind, my friends, I present to you, The Pendulum Swings.
Walking became running in the foot of snow that tripped and engulfed her when she fell. The white fluff left bloody imprints of her body and she struggled furiously to reach her intended destination. What would her children think of her if they found out that she terminated the life of a future sibling? Her husband didn’t even know that she was pregnant for the ninth time, and to him it was what women did. It was a woman’s responsibility to bear children and keep a home. Even now, in 1967, those old values plagued the lives of women. Mary stumbled up the stairs to the parsonage. It was almost midnight, but she banged screaming on the door until lights went on in the foyer. “Help me! Please, Reverend White, help me!”
“Mary! What has happened to you? Sandra, Sandra, come quickly, and bring lots of towels.” Reverend Richard White’s face turned pale. He knew what this was. He had seen it much too often.
“Dear God, Mary!” Sandra rushed to Mary’s side.
“Reverend, please don’t call the police, or… or the hospital. And don’t call Terry either. He didn’t even know about the baby.” Mary shook from fear and shock. Her face was drained of color.
“Don’t worry, Mary. You’re safe here with us. Stay with her, Sandy. I’m going to call Doctor Evans and then the convent.”
Richard was a member of an underground group of clerics and medical professionals that had formed a coalition to counsel and rescue women who were either seeking an abortion or to give them medical attention if they had made the inadvisable decision to find a back alley hack. Some of the women did it themselves. Abortion was illegal and contraception was frowned upon, and the only safe places for them to go were their churches and temples. These women had nowhere to turn and what Dick saw over the last few years was nothing short of horrific. The desperation of young girls and women seemed to pounce on him from every direction once he finally surrendered to the nagging prod to help them.
“Dicky, hurry! We’re losing her!” Sandra screamed from the other room.
“Doc! Doc, this is Dick White. Come as fast as you can. We have another one.”
Although only ten minutes had passed from the Reverend’s phone call until Doctor Darryl Evans reached the parsonage, it seemed like it had been to the end of time. “Take me to her.” Doc rushed through the door.
“She passed out a little bit ago, and she hasn’t stirred. Oh, Doc. Can we save her?” Sandra White was a devoted pastor’s wife and when Dick made the decision to minister to women on the verge of abortion, she was right by his side.
“Dick, help me get her onto the table. Did you call Sister Corrine?” Doc prepared Mary for surgery.
Dick grunted as he helped move Mary. “Yes. She is coming right over. She has to make up an excuse to tell her abbess, but she’ll be along any minute now.”
“Good, cuz she’s the best nurse I know. Come on, Mary darling, keep breathing.”
There was a knock on the door. A frantic Corrine pushed her way in the second Sandra opened it. “Where is the patient?”
“Follow me.” Sandra escorted Sister to the dining room where Mary lay on the makeshift operating table.
“Oh, no, Doc. This is Mary Robinson. I met with her last week when she told me she was pregnant. I should have dug deeper. There was no happiness, just that hollow stare.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Corrine. Intolerance is to blame.” Doc began the procedure to repair any damage that had been done by the coat hanger Mary used to abort her fetus. “Geez, Mary, you really did a number on yourself. I don’t know how… uh-oh, no, no… she’s hemorrhaging. I can’t stop it. Quick, someone get some ice.” Sandra rushed back with a bowl of ice, but found only an empty and powerless silence. For all of their efforts, Mary had died.
“Goddamnit! This has got to stop!” Doc Evans threw a blood soaked towel onto the floor.
“You did your best, Doc. That’s all we can do right now.” Corrine wiped Mary’s blood from her hands.
Dick finished a silent prayer over Mary’s body and with a scary determination said, “No, no, it’s not. It can’t be. This has become an unacknowledged epidemic. Nowhere in the bible does it say that women should not have control over their reproductive rights. This is State sanctioned murder.” Dick was done.
“So, what do you want to do?” Doc stood tired and beaten.
“Our group is made up of Baptist, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian brethren. I say we band together and push for legalized abortion.
“Whoa, that would expose all of us. Are we ready for that?” Sister Mary Corrine didn’t know if that would work for her.
“For all of our faith filled efforts, for all of our prayers, this particular social condition is not going to go away. It’s much deeper than preaching to just “have faith.” Women are suffering at the hands of an unjust patriarchal system where they have never been recognized as much more than second class citizens.”
“Calm down, Dicky. There’s nothing more we can do tonight.” Sandra slipped her arm around the good Reverend to comfort him.
“Let me think on it. Right now, I have to call the Coroner.” Doc Evans waned. It was a never ending cycle. Sure, they could all walk away from it. They could take the stance the majority had taken that these women were sinners. They were loose, or crazy, or just plain stupid for getting themselves into the situation in the first place. But, it wouldn’t change a thing. Abortions would continue, performed by hacks looking to make a quick buck or executed by the women themselves. It was a damn mess.
As the four waited for the Coroner’s arrival, Sister Corrine decided it would be best if she wasn’t there when they came to remove Mary’s body. She knew that this would never be sanctioned by the Church, especially because she was a nun. Corrine had a heavy decision ahead. Was she a nurse or a nun first? The blood of all of these women plagued her. Their suffering, both mental and physical, was real and no one… no one was paying any attention to their pain.
“We’ll see you later?” Sandra smiled.
“Yeah… later.” Corrine closed the door behind her engulfed in deep thought.
The Coroner finally arrived along with the police. “Reverend, I’m Detective Marty Bennet. You want to tell me what happened here?” The detective was smug as he sauntered over to Dick.
“Yes, Detective. The deceased is Mary Robinson. She is a parishioner of mine. Doctor Evans will confirm that she performed an abortion on herself and came to me for help.”
“You. Why’d she come to you? Why not her husband?”
“Well, I guess because I’m her pastor. Look, it’s a sensitive issue and I don’t think her husband knew she was even pregnant, so can you take it easy until we can break the news to him?”
“You called him? He’s on his way?”
“Not yet. We wanted to wait until you got here. I’ll do that now.” Dick walked away feeling a little vulnerable.
“Is that right, Doctor? Mrs. Robinson did an abortion on herself?” The cop had a toothpick in his mouth that he rolled from one side to the other as he waited for answers.
“Unfortunately, that is true.” Doc replied.
“It’s against the law. Abortion. It’s against the law. Why didn’t you call the police right away?”
Doc was just tired enough and just angry enough to let his belligerence show. “Because, Detective, she was bleeding to death. There wasn’t time and my oath is to save the patient not call the law.”
“Don’t go anywhere. I may have some more questions.” The detective strolled away to further investigate the scene.
Dick whispered to Doc. “He’s a bit distrustful. What do you think he’s up to?”
“I don’t know. Did you call Terry Robinson?”
“Yeah. He’s on his way over.”
Just as the Coroner was hoisting Mary’s body onto the gurney, Mr. Robinson came rushing through the open door. “Pastor, what’s going on? You said something about Mary? Oh, lord, is that her? Oh, lord. Mary? Oh, god, is she dead?”
“Here, come over here, Terry. Sandy, help me.”
“Terry, please. Come away from here. Come into the kitchen with us and let us tell you what happened.” Sandra gently maneuvered him to the kitchen and away from the bloody scene.
“Mr. Robinson, um… Terry, my name is Doctor Darryl Evans. I was called here by Pastor White. It seems your wife took it upon herself to perform her own abortion. It was crudely done and she hit the uterine artery and by the time I got to her there was nothing I could do to save her. I’m… I’m so very sorry.”
“A… a what? An abortion… Mary wasn’t pregnant. Was she?”
“She was, Terry. She just hadn’t told you yet.” Sandra spoke the words so softly.
The peace was broken when Terry jumped up from the table. “That bitch! That thankless bitch! I gave her everything. She wanted for nothing and she kills our child? She kills herself? I can’t do this. I can’t do this right now.” As Terry raced toward the door, Dick tried to stop him in order to calm him down. Terry turned on him and punched him in the face. “What did you say to her? Did you tell her to do this? Mary wouldn’t have done this on her own. Is that why she came to you and not me?”
Doc helped Dick to his feet. “Terry, why would you think that?”
“Because. I know what you all do. We all know what you all do. Leave me… uh… leave me be.” With that, Terry ran out the back door.
“Why didn’t you hold him here? I still have questions for him.” Detective Bennet stood at the edge of the kitchen.
“Really? Did you see what happened here? There was no stopping him and he’s grief stricken.” Dick was holding his bleeding nose over the sink.
“What’d he mean when he said that he knew what you all did?”
“I don’t know. He’s delirious right now.” Doc stepped up.
“Don’t worry. I’ll find out. It always comes out.” Detective Bennet strolled away.
After the Coroner and the police left, Doc, Sandra and Dick sat around the kitchen table. “Hey, Rev. You have something a little stronger than coffee?” Doc Evans was spent.
“Yeah, Sandy, me, too, please?”
“Don’t worry fellas, me three.” Sandy pulled a bottle of whiskey out of the cupboard.
“Doc, now don’t go petering out on me at this stage of the game. I can’t do this without your help.”
“No. If it weren’t for the pictures of all of the girls and women who have died from hacked abortions embedded in my mind, I’d be out o’ here. But I can’t. So, I’m in. That Detective is suspicious about us, though.”
“He is, isn’t he? Well, one thing is for sure. We need another place for women to go for counseling and their surgeries. I think my parsonage is a hot spot for police to be watching us.”
“How much do we have in donations right now?”
“I don’t know. Sandy, do you know?” Dick and Sandra were a good team.
“Of course. We have around $2300. Is that enough to rent a place?”
“It is. But that’s just a start. We’re going to have to work harder to form a coalition with the others. Ours can be the first underground clinic and they can refer patients to us.”
“How many ministers and rabbis are we linked into right now?” Doc questioned.
“Around 500 on the East Coast. There are others forming across the rest of the country, especially in California. We could become a strong national group. You know, I believe this Detective Bennet is going to try to mess with us, but he may not realize how many cops will look the other way. Too many of them have seen what we see, and some have had to use the connections we have.” Dick wondered about his new calling sometimes, but those doubts all fell away when another woman was saved.
“Okay, then. Tomorrow we look for a place for the clinic.” Dick raised his glass. “To finally giving women value.” The three clinked their glasses, drank and went to bed hoping for a more just future.
In the months to come, Dick White and Doctor Evans found a small house they rented for a minimal cost. Women came by the hundreds within the first couple weeks. The stories ranged from those of women being raped, to young girls as young as twelve being molested and raped by a family member, to women like Mary Robinson, who just didn’t have the wherewithal, mentally or physically to have another child.
Detective Bennet had taken to planting himself outside the parsonage. Sandra tried to ignore the fact that he was there, and Dick made calls from his office in the church. They suspected that their home phone had been bugged. But, not all people were aware of the new clinic and one evening a black mother and her twelve year old daughter knocked on the parsonage door.
“May I help you?” Sandra asked.
“Please, please. Someone told me that you and your husband could maybe help us. May we come in?”
Sandra glanced around only to see Detective Bennet’s car parked conspicuously down the street. She took a deep breath and said, “Yes, of course. Come in.”
“Thank you. We are desperate and I didn’t know where else to turn. I mean, I could have tried to do something myself, but…”
“No, don’t. Perish the thought. Let me get my husband and you can tell us all about your situation.”
When Dick joined them in the kitchen, Sandra had already made coffee and sandwiches. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Well, um, is it okay for us to tell you that?” The mother was distraught.
“Here, with us, you have nothing to fear.” Sandra smiled.
“Well, okay. Um… my name is Sarah and this is my daughter Latrice. About six weeks ago, Latrice was walking home from school when a man jumped her. He dragged her into a garage and beat her and raped her and left her for dead. She was barely alive when I finally found her and got her home. We didn’t want to draw attention to her shame, so I nursed her myself at home. She just went back to school a couple of weeks ago, but now… now, after all she has been through, she has missed a period. I think she might be pregnant.” Sarah’s eyes spilled tears as she finished her story.
“Sarah, listen to me. Latrice has nothing to be ashamed of.” Dick was always astonished when women perceived their sexual assaults as their shame. “She was attacked. This is not something that she brought upon herself.” A hard knocking at the front door startled them.
“I’ll get it.” Sandra volunteered. As she opened the door she realized who it was. “Detective Bennet! What can I do for you?”
“I saw a colored lady and a girl come here. What do they want? You won’t mind if I come on in and ask them myself, now do you?” Bennet forced his way into the house.
“Detective Bennet. Would you like to join us for coffee and sandwiches?” Dick rounded the doorway into the foyer.
“Why, yes. Thanks. Don’t mind if I do.”
“Sarah and Latrice, this is Detective Marty Bennet. He has a purpose for visiting of that I’m sure, but, right now I don’t know what it is.” Dick laughed as he spoke.
“Well, I was just wondering why a colored lady and her daughter would be visiting you on this end of town, Reverend White. That’s all.”
“On this end of town? Really, huh. Well, that’s easy. Latrice needs to be baptized by immersion in order for her to attend a Baptist retreat for young teens happening this weekend. Her minister is gone on a mission trip and won’t be back for another month. So, they have asked me to do it.”
“This retreat, uh, they have coloreds and whites?”
“No, Detective.” Dick was annoyed. “It is a retreat sponsored by their own Baptist church.”
“You sure it’s not more like this little girl got herself into trouble and she and her mama come here to ask for your help?”
Sarah held her breath. Latrice’s eyes grew wide and then Sandra said, “Detective, I am going to ask you to leave our home. You can’t come here and insult our guests and consider yourself welcome. I’m asking you to please leave. Now!” Sandra’s face was stern and Bennet knew when he was outgunned.
“Certainly. Sorry miss, ma’am. Mrs. White, thank you for your hospitality. Reverend.” Bennet sauntered out in his normal irritating fashion.
As the front door closed and Dick came back into the kitchen, Sarah and Latrice breathed out a sigh of relief, “Do you think he knows, Reverend White? We don’t want to bring you any trouble.”
“Listen to me. You are not causing me trouble. This is my ministry to help girls and women in your daughter’s predicament. But, first, we should probably determine whether Latrice is pregnant. I’m going to give you the address of our clinic. If she does have to have an abortion, we charge $200. If you don’t have the money, that’s okay. We’ll work around it. Come to this address tomorrow morning.”
Sarah and Latrice’s eyes were so sad, but grateful. Everything that Latrice had been through was traumatic enough without having to worry about a pregnancy at twelve years old conceived from a vicious attack. The assault alone would stay with her for a very long time; one from which she may never recover.
The challenge which intensified by the day was the game played between Dick and Detective Bennet. The reverend had to leave his office from the back door and then walk to the clinic undetected. Doc Evans experienced similar surveillance episodes. His were even more daring since his generally involved meeting with the patient before going to the clinic.
All of their efforts were brought to a head when sixteen year old Juliet, who refused to give them her full name, walked through the doors of the clinic. She had been referred by Sister Corrine and despite Corinne’s urging to reveal her full identity, Juliet insisted on complete anonymity. “I can’t take the chance that my name will come out. You have no idea what this will do to my father. It has to be this way.”
“But, Juliet. This procedure for you is life threatening. Not only is the pregnancy ectopic, but you are a bleeder. I’m not going to lie to you. I could lose you on the table. Look, your pregnancy is ending on its own anyway. Let me put you in the hospital so that the proper resources will be available if complications set in. Don’t you want your mother, at least, to be with you?”
“No. No one must know what I did. I can’t… I can’t let them bear the shame and I won’t make trouble between my parents. This is my fault and my responsibility. Please, Doctor Evans, just do this for me. You are my only hope.”
“Alright.” Doc sighed and looked up to see Sandy rush into the office. “Oh, great, Sandy, you’re here. Will you prepare Juliet for the procedure. Juliet, I wish you would change your mind.”
Juliet dropped her head in defiance. Doc knew he needed to go forward despite his apprehensions. He turned to Sandy, “I need to be prepared for anything. Make sure we have lots of ice available in the room. I gotta tell you, Sandy. I don’t like this one at all.”
“Then don’t do it, Doc. And I don’t want to increase your anxiety, but Detective Bennet followed me here.”
“Well, damn it all anyway. The thing is, we don’t have time. She’s already starting to bleed hard. It needs to be done now.”
Meanwhile, Marty Bennet had already called for backup, intending to go in fully loaded.
Juliet’s procedure was underway. Everything seemed to be moving along according to medical protocol when a spurt of blood became a large flow of blood. Doc panicked. “Sandy, ice. We need to clot the blood.”
In through the operating room door rammed Detective Bennet and his backup police force. Doc yelled, “Get the hell out of here. I’m losing this child and you don’t belong here.”
“Juliet? Juliet, what the… What’s my daughter doing on that table? What do you mean you’re losing her?” Marty Bennet was paralyzed. “What did you do to her? You son-of-a-bitch!”
Doc and Sandra exchanged looks of shock as they continued to work on their patient amid Marty’s admonitions and the police holding him back. “Sandra, call an ambulance. I stopped the bleeding, but she needs a hospital. Exposure be hanged.”
An ambulance arrived and took Juliet away and the others followed her to the hospital. Sitting, in the waiting room, Marty reflected in a sea of confusion. Doc Evans pondered what he might have done differently. Sandra was joined by Sister Corrine and Dick. They were there for Marty, but he barely noticed. His little girl was near death and he hadn’t even known that anything was wrong.
“Did she, um, I mean, did she come to see you about this?” Marty wanted to understand.
Corrine sat down next to him. “Yes, sir. Juliet came to me yesterday when she started to spot. She already knew she was pregnant, but was unsure about what she was going to do. We talked it through and she wanted to see Doc Evans before making any kind of decision about an abortion. By that time, the bleeding had increased and Doc had to act.”
“I’m sorry, Detective. I tried to convince her to go to the hospital, but she didn’t want to disgrace you and your wife, and as the bleeding increased we didn’t have a choice.”
“Disgrace us? How could Juliet ever disgrace us? She is the sweetest child. We never would have felt ashamed of her. She could have come to us.” Marty began to cry.
Juliet Bennet died that day. Her parents lost their only child and the significance of her death and the deaths of thousands of others resounded through the churches and the synagogues, the courthouses and the Statehouses until Norma Leah McCorvey Nelson, also known as Jane Roe, lied about a pregnancy from a presumed rape in order to obtain an abortion. Ironically, her lie of desperation resulted in the landmark decision by the Supreme Court declaring the ban on abortions was unconstitutional.
Reverend Richard White and his cohorts continued fighting for justice even after the 1973 Supreme Court decision, where they continued to fight for a woman’s right to choose. By the end, 1400 clergy and medical professionals all across the United States, had seen enough bloody carnage to know that choice was the only option for women who had already made up their minds to abort. A woman’s decision, like her spiritual peace was for her alone to direct.