Saturday, May 19, 2007

Clergy Consultation Service, Abortion, and ...



What You Ask Me Has A Lot To Do With How I Answer

Elsewhere it has been noted that this is the 40th Anniversary of the Clergy Consultation Service, a pre-Roe v. Wade project through which many of us who were clergy referred women to those who could provide them with the abortion services they needed.

We were very intentional. We referred only to a provider in another state (or country) because it was questionable if state laws would apply to interstate or international transactions. At least in our neck of the woods, every health worker, nurse, lab tech, whatever who came to use our services was asked to provide an extremely thorough health and safety evaluation of the doctor to whom they were referred. Most doctors were scrupulous about hygiene, we stopped all relationships with any doctor who was not. We required all doctors to provide one free service for every five paid services. And raised money for transportation for those needing the free service.

I have a whole book I could write about my experiences in this work. Today, just one reflection. It's about statistics, surveys, and how it is that how you ask can be more important to your answers than anything else.

For although our work may have been legally questionable, a major hospital wanted us to keep statistics, to learn more about the nature of the situation. Thus we had a number of questions to ask the women who came to us.

The answers I got to those questions were vastly different from the answers many other clergy recorded. The simple difference was when we asked the questions. Many clergy began with the survey, thinking it was a way to get to know their client. Fair enough assumption, I suppose. Me, I had been terrified I was pregnant when I didn't want to be. I knew what that felt like. So first I dealt with the woman's terror. That is, we arranged her appointment, she had the date, the address, the whole enchilada in her hand. Then I asked the questions.

Most other clergy recorded almost every pregnancy was the result of the first time the woman had ever had sex. Me, it was part of a long pattern of sexual activity. Most other clergy recorded contraception had always been used. Me, in 450 cases, only 6 had used any form of contraception including withdrawal!

See, if you think they may not give you the information you want, you try to give them the answers you think they want too. Like gee, first time ever, and yes, of course we used contraception. Only when you have what you need will you feel free to tell the truth.

Can't tell you how often I think of this when I hear the results of polls and surveys. Lord knows, it isn't just the formulation of the questions, it's even how, and when you ask!

4 comments:

ms. kitty said...

I'm betting, Juffie, that the clergy who were conducting the interviews in that era were predominantly male. That would be an intimidating factor as well, not just timing.

Berrysmom said...

I think you've got a good point here. It's helpful to remember when we need to get information from people who have come to us needing something from us as well. Thanks for the observation.

I did a Fathers Day service a few years ago on men's role in the Pro-Choice movement (it was right after the huge March for Women's Rights in DC). I got some good information from Farley Wheelwright and Gordon McKeemon on the Clergy Consultation Service, but didn't know that you were involved.

I will be glad to send you the sermon if you contact me.

Having a good Sunday afternoon? I am!

juffie said...

At first I wrote the piece with The Male Ministers doing the surveys that got the skewed data - but that wouldn't be fair. A few male ministers, after my different results, could feel the difference for the woman, and changed their ways too. They got the sort of results I did when they changed the timing of their questions.

I think the main thing was, when you don't yet have what you need, the questions sound like part of the judgement and discernment part of the interview upon which the decision will hinge. Great incentive to sound gooder than Pollyanna.

C said...

My memories of the Boston Area Clergy Counseling Serve are:
- almost everyone was male, as I am
- more then 50% of the women who came to see me were Catholic
- the overwhelming majority came with a mother or friend who was not a male
- those who were married most often came alone
- the offer for a follow-up visit after their abortion was taken up by only two people, and listening to their stories was despressing.
- one woman returned for a second visit (for a second abortion).
- I probably asked the wrong questions or was not as present, available, or receptive as others, but my wish for better results than what the nation offered over-rode that.
I never wish anyone to go back to that time.
I wish more people spoke out after the most recent Supreme Court decision.

 
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