'Harriet Tubman Of The Abortion Movement' Is Dead At 91

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Rev. Moody was called the "Harriet Tubman of the abortion movement." He was a visionary Baptist preacher who was in the forefront on many, many social issues, but is probably best known for his work helping women find doctors who would perform an abortion. I knew of him back in the 70s; a friend of mine was one of his volunteers, and he really was a lifesaver to so many women:

The Rev. Howard R. Moody the longtime minister of the historic Judson Memorial Church, who hurled himself and his Greenwich Village congregation into roiling social issues, at one point helping women from around the nation get illegal abortions, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 91.

The cause was pneumonia and complications of cancer treatment, his daughter, Dr. Deborah L. Moody, said.

Mr. Moody’s religious career began at 5, when he preached his family’s strict Baptist faith on a street-corner milk crate in Texas. It flowered during his 35-year ministry at Judson Memorial, a Romanesque landmark overlooking Washington Square built from 1888 to 1893 as a mission church to help the poor. For Mr. Moody, a more inclusive gospel and good works were priorities.

He started the first drug-treatment clinic in the Village and went out of his way to offer aid, and cookies, to prostitutes. He made his church the home of one of New York’s first Off Off Broadway theaters and an innovative dance company. A gallery he established there showed artists like Claes Oldenberg and Robert Rauschenberg before they were well known. Beatniks, and later hippies, were welcomed. In the 1960s he let Yoko Ono and others stage “happenings.” One event, called “Meat Joy,” featured bikini-clad performers and a dead fish.

When AIDS struck, Mr. Moody set up a support group. Soon he was presiding over one memorial service after another. He fought censorship and defended people who defaced the American flag. He became a leader of a local political club, the Village Independent Democrats, and helped topple the Democrats’ tainted district leader, Carmine G. DeSapio.

Mr. Moody — whose background as a Marine sergeant both puzzled and amazed some of the more radical members of his church — probably made his biggest impact on the issue of abortion. He believed that a pregnant woman should be able to decide the fate of an embryo or fetus herself.

Shortly after he arrived at Judson, in January 1957, to become senior pastor, a Florida woman took the train to New York to see him, hoping to get an abortion. Another minister had given her Mr. Moody’s name and he was able to guide her to a safe abortion.

A decade later, he had established a network of 21 ministers and rabbis to help pregnant women. He told The New York Times about what he was doing expressly to demonstrate that he was not hiding anything, and The Times ran an article about him on the front page on May 22, 1967. No one was arrested, nor was the operation shut down.

When New York State legalized abortion in 1970, Mr. Moody helped set up a national network of 1,400 clergy members to guide to his state women who wanted safe, legal abortions. That led to his establishment of the nonprofit Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, a free-standing private clinic. After the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, referrals from other states stopped, but Mr. Moody kept the clinic going to help poor New York women.

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