Months before the U.S. Supreme Court leak revealed the nation’s highest court was set to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion case, Reverend Daniel Kanter was among the religious leaders from Texas who worked to help those struggling with the state’s own restrictions on abortion.
Following Senate Bill 8, the six-week ban that went into effect Sept. 1, some North Texas clergy have sought to help area residents obtain abortions. Texas’ new law was considered the most restrictive in the country until Oklahoma enacted a stricter law last week.
For Kanter’s First Unitarian Church in Dallas, the history of abortion rights action dates back to the early days of Roe vs. Wade, which was decided in 1973. From the beginning, the church has helped carry on the tradition of offering refuge to those who believe that abortion is a fundamental right.
Six years ago, Kanter created a multi-faith chaplaincy program in which chaplains traveled to Southwestern Women’s Surgical in Dallas to provide spiritual counseling and affirmation to those who had obtained abortions there.
But, when SB 8 was enacted, Kanter said he knew their program would have to evolve as the clinic saw a 70% decrease and efforts needed to help patients seek services in other states.
“I just transferred clinical chaplaincy to the travel program,” Kanter said.
In December, he organized the first trip for 20 women to the facility’s sister clinic, Southwestern Women’s Options, both founded by Dr. Curtis Boyd.
The travel program is for qualified patients whose income is below the poverty line.
Certain religious groups are often associated with opposition to abortion, but Kanter said many church volunteers have written notes and pastries to send with those who make the trip to New Mexico each month.
Boyd’s clinic in New Mexico Southwestern Women’s Options recently settled a $900,000 wrongful death lawsuit in which a 23-year-old woman died during a multi-day outpatient process. New Mexico is a state that has no restrictions on the gestational age of pregnancy for elective abortions or waiting periods according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice of New Mexico takes care of the logistics while Kanter and the other clergy focus on being there for those who want prayers or guidance.
“We’re going bi-weekly right now, mostly because the clinic in New Mexico is strained with 20 other patients on their schedule,” Kanter said.
Since December, the group has taken 20 women to New Mexico on organized trips at least twice a month.
“Being chaplain to these 20 people seeking abortions has been one of the most spiritual, powerful, and meaningful experiences of my ministry,” said Reverend Erin Walter, director of Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry. from Texas, who accompanied a group as chaplain several weeks ago.
The trip started at First Unitarian in Dallas at 5:30 a.m. The women received ‘spiritual support’ and then left for the airport, Walter said, adding that some of the women had never flown previously.
After the flight, they were taken to the premises of the religious coalition for breakfast and preparation for appointments.
“The afternoon is, you know, rest. I prayed with some of them and just asked… to surround them with a sense of comfort and peace and guide the hands and minds of the healthcare providers they would see,” Walter said.
The patients were given lunch, Walter said, and by the end of the day they were on a flight back to Dallas.
Most of those seeking help on Walter’s journey were women of color. Some were working on their laptops while others were returning from the flight and heading to their shift in a factory. Another was getting ready to go to the ball the next day.
Concerns are mounting that the number of Texans seeking abortions in other states — or even Mexico and other countries — will only increase if Roe is overturned, as expected, when the Supreme Court soon rules on a crucial case of Mississippi.
Texas Health and Human Services estimated that the number of reported abortions in the state fell nearly 60% in the first month after new restrictions took effect last September.
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