Tag: religion

The Miseries and Heartbreak of Backstreet Abortions: Before and After Roe

In 1967, a group of clergy in New York City founded the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS) to “bring light and hope to the thousands of people who suffer — usually in quiet, and sometimes in death — the miseries and heartbreak of backstreet abortions.” In an era of back-alley butchers, prohibitively high-priced abortions… Read more →

Bans, Boycotts, and Brawls: The 1970s West Virginia Textbook Controversy

To find tensions in American society, look at K-12 textbooks. Not in them, but in the debates they bring to the fore. In the wake of the Donald Trump victory and right-wing populism, the protests in Kanawha County, West Virginia from 1974-5 are worth learning about. At the Kanawha County Board of Education meeting on… Read more →

Faith, Reproductive Politics and Resistance: A Conversation with the Reverend Joan Bates Forsberg

Reverend Joan Bates Forsberg played a notable role in struggles for contraceptive access in the 1950s and 1960s and abortion access in the 1970s. Although her name regularly appears in historical accounts of Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court case that overturned Connecticut’s ban on contraceptives, historians have repeatedly described Forsberg as a minister’s… Read more →

Mary, Did You Know?: An Essay on Christmas Carols, Medical History, and Reproductive Politics

The Christmas season is a curious time for a historian of women’s health, abortion, and maternal politics: at its historical and religious core, the holiday revolves around the legend of an unusual pregnancy and a remarkable birth. The miracle of Christmas, in the Christian tradition familiar to many Americans today, is not only the birth… Read more →

Sonia Johnson and Sticking It to Haters

Most women who run for president experience some degree of notoriety. Certainly this was the case for Sonia Johnson, who ran for president in 1984 as the candidate for the left-wing U.S. Citizen’s Party. Although Johnson held a Ph.D. in English, she spent much of her adult life as a Mormon housewife with limited involvement… Read more →

Call the Medical Missionary: Religion and Health Care in Twentieth-Century Britain

If you have ever seen the popular BBC/PBS television program Call the Midwife1 then you know that the central setting, Nonnatus House, is an Anglican religious order in the East End of London in the 1950s, offering midwifery and medical services to the community. Nonnatus House and Call the Midwife are semi-fictitious creations of author… Read more →

Stop Rape: A WWII Chaplain’s Advice

During this week’s oral arguments on California’s Prop 8, Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether the court could take a stand on gay marriage, which, he claimed, was “newer than cell phones or the internet.” Questionable logic aside, Alito’s insistence that wariness represents the appropriate response to any sort of “new” arrangement of sexual politics attracted… Read more →

Fallen Women Forgiven: Enda Kenny and the Magdalene Laundries

By Helen McBride

Prompted by the UN Committee against Torture in 2011 to set up an inquiry, the Irish government has released a report on State collusion with the Catholic Church in the treatment of girls and women in the work houses known as the Magdalene Laundries. These Laundries were run by four Roman Catholic orders of nuns.

The laundries were institutions started by the Catholic Church in 1922, in which thousands of vulnerable women were incarcerated. While in reality those sent to the laundries were products of poverty, homelessness, and dysfunctional families, the myth of the “bad girl” and “fallen woman” sent to the laundries to reform has persisted. Those that were sent to these institutions spent months or years in hard labour, with no access to education, little respect and in many cases lived in constant fear. Work included doing laundry for hotels, hospitals and prisons.

Rites and Wrongs: Changing a Ritual from Within

By Elizabeth Reis

The previously obscure ultra-Orthodox Jewish rite of metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) has burst into the news lately and raised critical questions about genital surgery, consent, First Amendment rights, tradition, and the representation of Jews.

I would guess that most Americans, even Jewish-Americans, had never heard of metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) until the recent controversy between ultra-Orthodox Jews and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It refers to a custom performed after a circumcision in which a mohel (ritual circumciser) orally sucks the blood away from the baby boy’s penis. To insure the requirement that blood be shed and then hygienically removed (sucking was deemed the best means of achieving this hygiene anciently), metzitzah b’peh became part of circumcisions in the 2ndcentury, according to scholars. Most Jews, even observant Modern Orthodox Jews, have abandoned the practice. But a small minority adheres to and defends it, based on the First Amendment – somewhat surprisingly now on free speech grounds in addition to its religious liberty provisions.