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Books / Spring 2019

To Offer Compassion
A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion

To Offer Compassion provides a glimpse of a rare moment in American history when Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis were at the forefront of the campaign for abortion rights. . . . [Dirks and Relf] were able to capture a vanishing—and for some, nearly forgotten—moment in the history of liberal religious abortion rights activism.”
Church History

In 1967, when abortion was either illegal or highly restricted in every U.S. state, a group of ministers and rabbis formed to counsel women with unwanted pregnancies—including referral to licensed physicians willing to perform the procedure. By 1973, when the Roe v. Wade court decision made abortion legal nationwide, the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS) had spread from coast to coast, referred hundreds of thousands of women for safe abortions without a single fatality, become a medical consumer advocacy group, and opened its own clinic in New York City.

As religious leaders spoke out on issues of civil rights, peace, or poverty, CCS members were also called to action by the suffering of women who had approached them for help. Overwhelmingly male, white, affluent, and middle-aged, these mainline Protestant and Jewish clergy were nonetheless outspoken advocates for the rights of women, particularly poor women. To Offer Compassion is a detailed history of this unique and largely forgotten movement, drawing on extensive interviews with original participants and on primary documents from the CCS's operations.


Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf, photo credit: Marcello Rochie. Doris Andrea Dirks teaches at Mount Royal University. Patricia A. Relf is a freelance writer.

Authors' website:
Photo credit: Marcello Roachie





“Provide[s] critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget.”
Publishers Weekly

“Provides critical historical evidence and lessons for the reproductive justice movement of today. Relying on oral testimonies from aging clergy involved with CCS and limited archival sources (given the clandestine nature of the work), Dirks and Relf record stories almost lost to history.”
—ACLU of Ohio

“A useful glimpse into a little-known piece of the past at a time when such a glimpse is especially relevant to the present.”
Resources for Gender and Women’s Studies

“Timely and the message is on point.”
Faith Matters

“This compelling history explores one of the twentieth century's most unusual religious endeavors—the collective defiance of American clergy who were willing to help direct women to illegal but safe abortions. No previous account of the Clergy Consultation Service has told their whole story so thoroughly and vividly.”
—Cynthia Gorney, author of Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars




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To Offer Compassion: Cover showing a water color poppy in front of a tan background. The title text is written in thin, red font towards the top of the page.

Larger images

New in Paperback!
August 2019
LC: 2016041572 HQ
256 pp.   6 x 9

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Paper $21.95 A
ISBN 9780299311346
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Casebound $26.95 A
ISBN 9780299311308
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