A Pastoral Message on Overturning Roe v. Wade
John Edgerton
June 28, 2022

During this Sunday’s service, I shared the following remarks about the overturning of Roe Vs. Wade. Several people asked me for these remarks and I share them here with you.

As I’ve spoken about before, reproductive healthcare matters to me very personally. My grandfather, now of powerful memory, spent his career as an OB/GYN in Davenport, Iowa. He saw that there was a vast disparity in healthcare among those women with financial means who came to his private practice and the many more poor women who gave birth at the hospital where he also served. Setting out to do something about this, he began a free clinic which he outfitted at his own cost with all the best staff and equipment. If it wasn’t good enough for his private practice, it wasn’t good enough for his free clinic. Women traveled long distances—including across state lines—in order to access healthcare they could not access and could not afford close to home. Women of all races came to this clinic. But his patients were disproportionately women of color who, due to structural racist inequities in our society, made up a large percentage of the women in need of free care. This was his proudest achievement in a long career of serving women’s health, the building up of what would become the Edgerton Women’s Health Center in Davenport, Iowa. 

A few years after his retirement, a man from Michigan drove a car through the glass fronted windows of the Clinic’s entrance, doused the car in gasoline, and tried to burn the place to the ground. He attempted by violence and terror to undo the proudest work of my grandfather’s career. 

That man failed. 

On Friday, however, a different sort of act did, indeed, succeed in undoing some of the work of my grandfather’s career. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will have a host of impacts. But make no mistake, the worst outcomes will be reserved for the people the Edgerton Center serves today—the poor, women of color, native women, and trans people. To see a family legacy undermined in this way galls me to my core. This matters to me personally.
In addition, I want to share some of my own thoughts about how this will play out societally. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has created a patchwork system in our country—with what is a fundamental right in one state being a crime in another state. This is unsustainable. There are already a myriad of groups—including faith based groups—who are assisting women to cross state lines and access abortion care that is now illegal in their home state. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, civil suits and criminal cases are soon to follow targeting those who assist women in seeking abortions.

States such as Connecticut and Massachusetts have already stated that they will refuse to cooperate in extraditing people to face such charges. A variety of similar legal mechanisms to protect those accessing abortion care in states where it is legal will shortly be enacted. Indeed, Governor Pritzker has called a special legislative session to do just that. 

What will follow is a constitutional crisis. The full faith and credit clause of the Constitution requires that states recognize one another’s laws as fully legitimate. To deliver up a person charged with a crime to the jurisdiction where they will be tried has been a matter of course for more than a century. However, if one and the same act is a crime in one state and a fundamental right in another state, this will not hold. People will be charged civilly and criminally in some states, and other states will refuse to cooperate with those proceedings. This is not a situation that this country has seen since the nineteenth century. 
The patchwork system that exists today, and the constitutional crisis it engenders, will not long sustain. It may be as little as months from now. It may be a handful of years. But one way or another there will be a single national standard guiding access to abortion. What that standard will be is yet to be seen. The outcome of all of this is uncertain in the extreme. What is my role in all of this, what is your role in all of this, what is the church’s role in all of this? I don’t know. Which is to say that this has only just begun.
None of this is easy or clear cut, and we are in dangerous, uncharted waters. Yet, our church has been through similar periods of great trial before. Times of war, and pandemic, and great civic upheaval, societal advance as well as backlash against those advances. By holding fast to our faith, we have charted our way to the present day. And by holding fast to that same faith, we can chart our way forward again.
John Edgerton
Lead Pastor
First United Church of Oak Park