MILWAUKEE – While the overturning of Roe vs. Wade took many by surprise, Rabbi Bonnie Margulis saw it coming.
Margulis, with decades of experience as a leader in the pro-choice movement, was preparing for a post-Roe world even before a draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked. Now, the possibility of a post-Roe world has become reality.
Margulis said she realized the fragility of the Supreme Court precedent as some on the right began to use other issues, such as Critical Race Theory, to advance their agenda; they no longer needed Roe to advance their agenda, and they had enough Supreme Court appointees to make tangible change. What felt like a faraway possibility to some became the reality that Margulis had braced for.
She attributes the Roe reversal to an attack on democracy, voting rights, civil rights, and more. “The fact that they’re succeeding when the vast majority of the country doesn’t want to go there is horrifying,” said Margulis, who is founder and president of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and advocate of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Director in Washington
As director of clergy programming at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in D.C from 1996 to 2008, Margulis witnessed first-hand the benefits of organized social action. In 2005, the social action coordinator at First Unitarian Society, began an effort to revive the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She assigned Margulis to staff the coalition as it was swinging back into action.
During her time in D.C, Margulis attempted to provide people with tools to be vocal and active in their homes and communities for reproductive justice. She launched training programs for clergy to assist people dealing with unwelcome pregnancies and reproductive loss, as well as facilitated interfaith and multifaith worship services and helped plan the March for Women’s Lives in 2002. In her congregation’s newsletter, Margulis provided readers with sample sermons, liturgy, and resources for reproductive rights.
When the Supreme Court decision was leaked, Margulis moved from the brainstorming stages to the planning stages. Previous to the leak, she had been in touch with Planned Parenthood to mobilize clergy members, but soon it was time to take the next step. “I just thought, this is not a good time for the Wisconsin Coalition for Reproductive Choice to not be active,” Margulis said.
Currently, Margulis seeks to revive the Clergy Consultation Service on abortion, which existed pre-Roe and was started by a Baptist minister, the Rev. Howard Moody. The service connects people with resources to obtain out-of-state abortions. Margulis plans to use her connections with colleagues to build infrastructure for transportation, home hospitality, food, childcare, and anything they may need to travel to Illinois and Minnesota to seek care. So far, at least one Chicago synagogue has expressed interest in helping out.
Margulis hopes to collaborate with doctors who run the clinics at the Illinois border. She believes that with their medical services and her organizational services, together they can make a difference.
“We are going back to a very dark time in our history… the extreme backlash and retrenchment to some earlier time, it’s just horrifying. All you can do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” This very shock is motivating people to ask their clergy, “what can we do to help?”
To move forward, Margulis said, we have to understand how we got here. “We got out-organized and out-funded because we didn’t believe we could go this far backwards… It’s going to take a long time. This is a 38-year fight,” Margulis said. According to the Rabbi, however, the clergy are ready for the long haul.