Protectors of Agency

Deborah Weiner
January 11 2023

By Deborah Weiner

“Life isn’t fair, but government must be.” 


—Ann Richards, former governor of Texas

My mother, Vera Weiner, was one of the founders of the Unitarian Society of New Haven.In the 1960s she, along with a group of activist Unitarian and other progressive women, were leaders of Planned Parenthood League (PPL) of New Haven. My mother became president during the time that the Griswold v. Connecticut case reached the US Supreme Court. What drove it there was the police closure of the clinic for dispensing birth control, with PPL supporting the notion that the right to privacy included women having agency over whether they wished to become pregnant.

After the clinic was raided and shut down, the PPL board was determined to continue their operations. They set up an office in the basement of our house, a few miles outside New Haven: the windows covered with cardboard; typewriters set up; boxes of diaphragms and gel and birth control pills everywhere; and nurses on staff to provide the birth control upon request.

The Planned Parenthood women would comb the newspapers for birth announcements. They contacted the new mothers with congratulations and offers of birth control. Meanwhile, I was warned not to tell anyone what was going on: I was told that it could result in my Mom getting arrested…so I kept quiet and the basement operation continued for some time.

When the Griswold vs. Connecticut ruling came down from the Supreme Court in 1965, there was a huge celebration in New Haven. The victory resonated across the United States and changed our understanding of a woman’s right to privacy. My mother and her friends, almost all of whom were UUs, were heroes because of their determination to act for access to birth control even when the state had barred it.

A few years later, in 1973, Roe v. Wade became law as well. As I was growing up, I viewed these occurrences as a logical progression: from the right to privacy to the right of a woman to hold agency over her own body. Little did I know what the dystopian society we now live in, in the United States, would have in store for us.

The blood of my mother runs in my veins and as a Unitarian Universalist religious professional, the call to continue to work for freedom and justice rings in my ears. My mother’s work is not done. It’s mine to do. And yours. And ours—without end, because to pause imperils our freedom.

Prayer

Gracious and loving spirit, restore in us the belief that we, as sacred beings, hold the wisdom to know what is best for our own selves, and that we are the best protectors of our whole, beautiful lives.

Editor's note: January 22, 2023, is the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade.