NECAC Forum: Bill Baird Backs Out of Dialogue with Me and a “Pro-Choice” Clergy Audience

John C. Rankin

A month after our March 6, 1985 debate at North Adams State College, Bill Baird, reputed “father of the abortion rights movement,” was scheduled to address a group of ministers in the United Church of Christ (UCC), meeting at a church in Ware, western Massachusetts. This I learned from a woman minister with the UCC who called me to ask if I would be willing to join with Baird for this April meeting, and have a dialogue with him and the assembled clergy. She identified herself as “pro-choice,” but that she was vitally interested in having both sides heard. I said yes, I would enjoy that, and she said she would get back to me.

When she did, she was deeply chagrined and apologetic, indeed, embarrassed. She told me that Baird had said no to the idea, that he wanted a more “intimate” and “collegial” (as I best recall the language) meeting with the clergy. In her best effort at salvage, she persuaded the clergy association to invite me to their next month’s meeting on May 14. This they did, and thus I was glad to be there.

Perhaps 35 UCC ministers were in attendance, I gave an address, and took questions in a morning meeting scheduled to end at noon, followed by a luncheon. The clear if not vast majority of the clergy were “pro-choice,” in favor of legalized abortion in some capacity. I do not recall the specific nature of my talk, but it was biblical in focus. The question and answer period was energetic, and still going strong when the noon hour arrived.

In the hallway right afterward, en route downstairs to the luncheon, one clergyman stopped me, looked at me intently and said, in reference to the question and answer period, “You sure think fast on your feet, don’t you?” His gaze was unsettling, and indeed, an unmistakable spirit of darkness was striking. I answered, “Well, I don’t know how fast I think on my feet, but I do know that I seek to do my thinking before I stand up.” His intensity remained, and he said, while first looking at me, and as he then turned away, “Oh you’re slick, really slick.”

When I went downstairs, to a nice spread prepared by women in the church, I wandered over to the kitchen area for some reason. As I did, one woman looked at me, then looked both ways, leaned close to me, and said softly, “Are you the pro-life minister who spoke today?” I said yes. Then she said, “Well, all of us in the pews are on your side.”

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