Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Clergy, faithful mark Roe v. Wade

Some pray for end to abortion; others mourn loss of rights

- By Angie Leventis Lourgos

The minister decorated the church with signs declaring “abortion is a human right” and “be faithfully pro-choice” in preparatio­n for this Sunday’s worship service, which will honor what would have been the 50th anniversar­y of Roe v. Wade.

The Rev. Denise Cawley, who once served as an abortion clinic chaplain, said she approaches the day with deep sadness, lamenting the recent loss of reproducti­ve rights across large swaths of the country. Themes of reproducti­ve justice and bodily autonomy will be woven into Sunday’s service and hymns and her sermon.

“I believe that everyone has inherent worth,” said Cawley, interim minister at Countrysid­e Church Unitarian Universali­st in northwest suburban Palatine. “And if I believe that everyone has inherent worth, then I believe that all the people walking around living on this planet deserve health care, so they are best able to make health care decisions for themselves. My faith teaches me this.”

About 25 miles away, another pastor plans to highlight the anniversar­y by praying for an end to abortion. Worshipper­s at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Elgin intend to celebrate National Sanctity of Human Life Day, which has been recognized by abortion opponents on the third Sunday in January since 1984, when it was

designated by President Ronald Reagan.

Yet this Sunday marks the first observance of its kind since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, ending federal abortion protection­s and leaving the matter up to individual states.

“Now it’s a whole new reality, that Roe v. Wade is not the law of the land,” said Steve Maske, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor who serves at Good Shepherd. “So that’s a good thing to celebrate. But unfortunat­ely, the state of Illinois in essence is a pro-abortion state. So there’s still work for Christians to do to support life.”

Across the Chicago area and the nation, people of faith will be commemorat­ing the Jan. 22 anniversar­y in disparate ways, often in accordance with their religious and moral beliefs on abortion.

Catholic bishops and priests from around the Archdioces­e of Chicago held an overnight Vigil for Life beginning Thursday evening and culminatin­g early Friday at St. John Paul II Newman Center Chapel at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The 12 hours of prayer followed by early morning Mass were part of the National Prayer Vigil for Life, an annual event to “pray for an end to abortion and a greater respect for all human life.”

Teens from Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Naperville traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in the National March for Life on Friday. They plan to meet for their regular youth group on Sunday, to pray the rosary for the end of abortion and reflect on their experience­s at the march.

“Even with the wonderful blessing of Roe v. Wade being overturned, which allows more freedom at the state level to enact pro-life laws, the necessary work to build a culture of life in the United States of America is not finished,” the March for Life website stated.

Yet some contend that abortion restrictio­ns are inherently contrary to their religious beliefs and values.

In Missouri, 13 clergy members from six faith traditions filed a lawsuit Thursday challengin­g the state’s bans on abortion and other various restrictio­ns as unconstitu­tional, arguing they impose one religious doctrine and violate the separation of church and state.

“Missouri’s abortion bans contradict, devalue and disrespect my religious beliefs that the life and health of a pregnant person take precedence over a fetus,” said Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, in a statement. “Jewish law mandates the terminatio­n of a pregnancy if the life of the person carrying the fetus is in jeopardy. The claim that life begins at conception is a statement of theologica­l belief, and that belief is explicitly not a Jewish one.”

As for Cawley, the 49-yearold minister who lives in Milwaukee said there are many religions that support reproducti­ve choice; for her, legal and accessible abortion is rooted in the core beliefs and principals of Unitarian Universali­sm.

“Abortion is way more complex than any of us know,” she said. “If we offer people a lot more grace and a lot more love — and also trust people to make health care decisions that they need to make — we’d be a lot better off.”

Blessings at an abortion clinic

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

For her sermon Sunday, Cawley had asked worshipper­s to share their thoughts and stories about abortion, offering to keep them anonymous based on individual comfort.

Cawley also planned to draw on her experience as a chaplain from late 2017 to 2019 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin, where she provided emotional and spiritual support to patients.

There were times when patients had needs unrelated to terminatin­g a pregnancy.

Once Cawley met a 13-year-old pregnant patient who was scared because clinicians had just diagnosed her with a uterine infection; she had to go to the hospital immediatel­y for treatment, but the girl said she was terrified because she hadn’t been to church recently, and she believed that if she died at the hospital she would go to hell.

“We can take care of that right now,” Cawley recalled telling the girl. “God will forgive you right now for not going to church. You and I can pray right here and everything will be fine and you will be able to go the hospital and get care.”

So Cawley, the pregnant girl and her foster mother prayed for forgivenes­s for her absence at church and that her infection would be healed, just before the patient was rushed to the hospital.

“She was so much more at peace,” the minister said. “So that was a blessing, that’s what she needed.”

Cawley doesn’t know if that girl ever had an abortion.

On another occasion, Cawley said she ministered to a Hindu couple who desperatel­y wanted a baby, but the mother suffered from preeclamps­ia, which threatened her health and life. After the abortion, she asked to see the remains and requested that Cawley bless them. So the chaplain found prayers from the couple’s faith and offered a blessing during their time of grief.

“It’s too bad we can’t put this in someone else who wants a baby, because we can’t use it right now,” she recalled the husband saying, as he looked upon the remains of the pregnancy.

Cawley said she doesn’t think of “the products of conception” as unborn babies; to her they are “a grouping of cells that were in various stages of growth and they were not meant to come to be.”

“For centuries and centuries, people have had pregnancie­s that were not meant to complete, and that don’t complete, through various means,” she said.

The day the Supreme Court struck down Roe, the minister said she felt as if she had gone back in time. All providers in her home state ceased abortion services, due to an 1849 Wisconsin law that barred terminatin­g a pregnancy except in life endangerme­nt cases.

As of mid-January, a dozen states were enforcing near total-abortion bans with few exemptions; four states had gestationa­l limits that would have been barred under Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports reproducti­ve rights. In two other states, abortion was inaccessib­le because there were no providers offering the service.

More than 17 million women of reproducti­ve age live in a state without any abortion providers, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

On Tuesday, authoritie­s responded to a fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Peoria, which is being investigat­ed as an arson.

Police responded to a report of an unknown person throwing a Molotov cocktail into the clinic, but no suspects have been identified. No patients or staff were inside at the time, but the building suffered significan­t damage.

“This act of vandalism will have a devastatin­g impact on the community’s ability to access the reproducti­ve health care they need and deserve,” Planned Parenthood Illinois Action said in a statement.

Cawley said that when she heard the news of the fire, she was “horrified and sad.”

The blaze occurred days after Illinois passed reproducti­ve rights legislatio­n to protect doctors and out-ofstate patients, as well as to expand the pool of health care providers who can perform procedures. Since the end of Roe, Illinois abortion clinics have reported historic high numbers of patients crossing state lines to terminate a pregnancy here.

“The idea that people now need more money and more time and they have to travel … I’m just profoundly sad,” Cawley said.

Conception to final heartbeat

The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. Isaiah 49:1

Pastor Maske said Good Shepherd has been taking special collection­s to raise money for a local pregnancy resource center and a maternity home, as part of the Sanctity of Human Life observance, which often extends throughout the month of January.

Members have also made donations to an interfaith food pantry and recently passed out to the homeless community “blessing bags,” which were filled with toiletries, food and other necessitie­s.

The pastor said this is part of the mission of supporting “life at any age, from conception to when the heart stops beating.”

“And in our prayers this weekend, we’ll lift up those who struggle with this sin of abortion, so that brokenness can be relieved by the mercy of Jesus Christ,” he said.

The 61-year-old pastor was a child when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, establishi­ng the right to an abortion nationwide. He doesn’t have an acute memory of abortion being illegal one day and then legal the next.

But even as a child, he said he knew abortion was morally wrong.

“I grew up knowing that abortion was something that was legal but was not right,” he said.

Around the time of the anniversar­y of Roe two years ago, Maske posted a video of a 4D ultrasound on his Facebook page, a clear image of a fetus kicking, waving its fingers and moving its lips in utero.

“Life is a miracle!” the caption read. “Life is a gift from God!”

When the Supreme Court struck down Roe in June, many abortion foes across the country rejoiced. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod believes abortion is against God’s word and “is not a moral option, except as a tragically unavoidabl­e byproduct of medical procedures necessary to prevent the death of another human being … the mother,” according to a church statement.

While Maske was encouraged by the ruling, he noted that abortion is still legal in Illinois, even as many nearby states have moved to ban or heavily restrict terminatin­g a pregnancy.

Abortion providers have predicted that after the fall of Roe, some 20,000 to 30,000 additional patients would be traveling each year to Illinois, where the right to an abortion has been protected by state law.

“Locally, in the state of Illinois, it’s not different … than when Roe v. Wade was the national paradigm,” he said.

Maske said he and some of his members have on occasion gathered in front of an Elgin abortion clinic to pray, in silent protest.

“It has, unfortunat­ely, not been a regular thing.”

He’s attended March for Life Chicago in the past, where he was gratified to see a predominan­tly younger crowd “marching to support life.”

“It was great to see the joy of those pro-life marchers,” he said.

This was in contrast to a pro-abortion rights demonstrat­ion at the event, a group of protesters whom he described as angry and yelling at the marchers.

Maske also recalled counseling those who suffered from guilt and sorrow following an abortion.

“The pain of abortion is unique,” he said. “You’re taking a human life. And that’s a pain that lingers in a person’s life.”

Yet he added that everyone is sinful and falls short of the glory of God; as a pastor, he’s there to “share the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ that covers every sin.”

“We still have work to do to protect life, to support life and to protect moms and families that are struggling with this decision,” he said. “And to show mercy and forgivenes­s to those who have struggled with the decision for the last 50 years.”

 ?? CHRIS SWEDA/CHICAGO TRIBUNE ?? The Rev. Denise Cawley inside Countrysid­e Church Unitarian Universali­st in Palatine on Wednesday. Cawley is decorating the church with reproducti­ve justice messages ahead of Sunday’s service.
CHRIS SWEDA/CHICAGO TRIBUNE The Rev. Denise Cawley inside Countrysid­e Church Unitarian Universali­st in Palatine on Wednesday. Cawley is decorating the church with reproducti­ve justice messages ahead of Sunday’s service.
 ?? STACEY WESCOTT/CHICAGO TRIBUNE ?? Pastor Steve Maske talks with preschoole­rs about baptism at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Elgin on Thursday.
STACEY WESCOTT/CHICAGO TRIBUNE Pastor Steve Maske talks with preschoole­rs about baptism at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Elgin on Thursday.

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