New York, NY – New York has a reputation for housing people ahead of their time and in this story, two unlikely individuals came together for a better cause. As Sophia from Golden Girls would say “picture it Brooklyn Heights in the 1960s”, Grace Faison was living on Willow Street with her husband in a small apartment with a leak. Until her husband, Jack received a letter in the mail about an inheritance, and later that same day a friend called about a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn Heights that was just the same amount and Grace couldn’t say no to it. Thus the couple bought it and it became the home of their operation.
“It was much too big for us,” Faison said to The Cut. “But I thought, I’m going to lock this in.” the apartment featured a doorman and a view of the river or Manhattan Skyline from every room. With their kids fully grown and out of the house, Grace and Jack, had a few bedrooms to spare and plenty of room for entertaining. Grace herself was a successful broker and had a reputation in New York as, “I didn’t get on your list, you had to get on my list. You had to be somebody I knew the board would approve.”
The couple spent their time vetting new members for the local casino, working with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, raising money for the Plymouth Church, and assisting out-of-state women with abortion access. The two spare guest rooms in their grand Brooklyn Heights apartment were used to house women who came into New York seeking an abortion, which at the time was illegal. The women would house with them for a night and be provided with dinner, but the Faisons never asked the women any personal questions about where they were from or why they were there.
“There was nobody who arrived at my apartment looking tacky. They were clean. They were polite. You knew they came from homes where they couldn’t tell their mothers,” Faison told The Cut. “I wanted them to feel that they were passing through. I thought the less they have to remember about this, the better.”
Faison’s views on abortion shaped as she became a mother. She was widowed at 9 months pregnant when her first husband, a Princetonian midshipman, drowned fighting in World War II in a typhoon off of Okinawa. She lived with her son off a war widow’s stipend of $97.10 a month. “I’ve lived being flat-ass broke, and it isn’t easy,” she said to The Cut. She later met Jack and they had another baby together, a daughter. Grace and her husband worked three jobs each to afford their lifestyle and she had a constant worry about getting pregnant again. “None of us were hedge-fund kids. It was just very much an issue in our lives,” said Grace, “I knew that if I got pregnant, I would want an abortion.”
While Faison never got pregnant on accident herself, she assisted many of her friends with abortions at the Brooklyn Hospital Center and in Manhattan. She was vocal about her politics regarding abortion, attending a protest in Albany regarding New York’s abortion ban and a talk in Bellport given by the founder of planned parenthood, Mary Childs Draper, who was also the roommate of Faison’s mother-in-law in Vassar.
Her assistance with women from out-of-state started with an unlikely friendship between her and the Plymouth church’s minister, Henry Kruener. The two had almost nothing in common, but every Wednesday they’d catch a matinee and go out for a burger. In 1969 Kruener brought Faison into the unlikely church world of activism. Howard Moody was an activist minister who originally recruited Kruener along with 21 rabbis and Protestant ministers in NYC to form the Clergyman’s Consultation Service on Abortion.
The CSS provided an answering service for women seeking an abortion outside of the city. They had a lot of clout in the 60s and used their power and institution to negotiate pay for doctors and providers ensuring women had safer, healthier, and more dignified access to abortions. Their goal was to widen the access to abortions as much as possible. The clergy grew to 1,400 men and helped assist over half a million women between 1967-1973 when Roe was started.
Faison recalled being asked by Kruener to assist him in housing the women while he provided them the service. “It was a chance for me to do something. Nobody knew. I was not to talk about it, and I didn’t,” she says. Plus, she had two guest rooms that “were always clean and ready, and they had a bathroom of their own.”
Between 1969-1970, Kruener would call Faison each week to let her know how many women to expect. Sometimes it was two to three, sometimes it was zero. Faison never knew if the women were coming into New York to have an abortion or just going to Kruener for counseling and to be sent elsewhere. But one thing is clear, the clergy always worked to ensure women had access to doctors across their state lines to make prosecution more difficult.
By April 1970, New York passed a law that legalized abortion access for women in the state and outside of the state, which sent in a flood of women. For the first time, it was no longer underground.
When asked how she felt about the current political climate Faison told The Cut, “I feel very angry at the way men treat women and don’t value them. It’s getting worse. I hope we can do something. How many people do you know who’ve lived through two world wars and the World Trade Center attack? This is the worst thing outside of war that they are doing. They are diminishing the value of women.”
There haven’t been other examples of people who have done what Faison did for those women so many years ago. However, the clergy was made up of 1,400 men and they always ran a tight ship. There’s a definite theory they had other church ladies under the belt helping in the background. In fact, Faison only made her story public because of the news that broke from the Supreme Court’s possible decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“I’ve been involved in every organization you can around here — never head, always secretary or treasurer”, Faison said to The Cut. While the CSS has been known and can be found with a simple google search, we know nothing about the possible other women who helped behind the scenes. Men have shouted loudly about their credit in changing or making history, women have moved in silence. They’re comfortable with getting shit done and moving on, but without women like Grace Faison, history would look a lot different.