Arlene Carmen was in a Manhattan coffee shop the morning she heard the news, and she ran all the way back to Judson Memorial Church. For three years she had been watching and collecting notes and trying somehow to supervise a network that was almost entirely illegal, as she traveled among American abortionists and the Clergy Consultation Service ministers around the country who were handing pregnant women their names. Now everything was about to change, and a single assemblyman's vote had made the difference: On April 10, 1970, after an incendiary political battle, the New York legislature had approved by the narrowest margin an abortion law so liberal that legal abortion was now to become accessible to any pregnant woman with the money to pay for it and the means to get herself to an abortion facility inside the state of New York. "I couldn't believe it," Carmen says. "Nobody was ready for it. And nobody was ready to handle what followed." New York was not the first state to loosen its abortion laws; a number of other states had already adopted what were being referred to as "reform" laws, which permitted legal hospital abortions for women who could come up with police documentation or psychiatric testimony to prove that they had been raped or that the pregnancy was threatening their mental or physical health. And Hawaii had gone much further with its just-enacted law, which like New York's said that as long as the fetus was not yet viable outside the womb (New York set the limit at 24 weeks), a woman seeking a legal abortion required only the consent of a physician. But Hawaii had included a residency requirement in its law, and New York, quite deliberately, had not. By 1970 more than a thousand ministers around the country had joined abortion referral networks modeled after the New York Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, which since 1967 had been quietly defying state law by helping women find illegal abortionists, and suddenly the New York law made the work of many East Coast clergy service ministers a great deal easier to manage. All a pregnant woman had to do, if she wanted to have a legal abortion without subjecting herself to the assessment of two psychiatrists, was reach the state line and then find a physician who would take her in. For women who lived in Philadelphia or Trenton, that meant climbing on a bus and coming home in time for supper, but women who lived farther away had rather a different prospect before them. The bus ride from Pittsburgh took nine hours. The air fare from Texas was so high that the Rev. J. Claude Evans, the Southern Methodist University head chaplain who ran the clergy service out of Dallas, went right on referring pregnant women to abortionists who were illegal but close enough to reach by car. The Wisconsin clergy service was taking telephone calls from farm girls who had never even been to Milwaukee until they drove to the airport for the 7:30 a.m. flight to New York; the United Methodist minister the Rev. Eleanor Yeo says she remembers mothers who could not afford two air fares and so spent the day,there in Milwaukee, waiting for the night flight that would bring their daughters home. One Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood counselor who often flew to New York on business took to carrying $100 cash with her so she would have cab fare to give the bewildered-looking single women who had begun approaching her to ask for subway directions to addresses the counselor knew were abortion clinics. "Women from all over the country were coming into the city to go to these clinics," Carmen says. "All these legal OB-GYNs who had previously sent pregnant women away without anything were now coming around looking for clients. A lot of clinics had traveling salespeople going around to visit the clergy, inviting them to come to New York and see their clinics. And they had travel expenses, tickets for Broadway shows." Carmen and the Rev. Howard Moody, the American Baptist minister who led the New York clergy service, helped disband their own state's group almost immediately after the passage of the 1970 abortion law, assuming that women within New York would no longer need the ministers' private assistance. For months before the law's final adoption, despairing of victory in the state legislature, the minister and his administrator had been imagining how they themselves might help open an illegal abortion clinic somewhere in New York -- at one point they envisioned setting up business on a ship moored under some foreign flag just outside the three-mile limit. And once the law did pass, one of the clergy service's own preferred physicians volunteered to move to New York and set up, with the promise of ongoing clergy service referrals, what was to become at one point the largest abortion facility in the United States. That clinic, which opened under the unfortunate acronym of CRASH -- the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health -- was one of many that hurried into business after clinic advocates won their campaign to convince dubious New York authorities that abortions could be performed safely outside the hospital system. The clinics were money-making facilities, for the most part, and suddenly there was a very great deal of money to be made; even at CRASH, which was set up as a nonprofit facility and informally renamed Women's Services, a single abortion cost $200, and more than 100 women a day lined up for those abortions from the moment the clinic opened. Those figures added up to a formidable daily take, and within six months, information that had passed privately inside church offices and ministers' living rooms was being trumpeted around the country in ways that startled even Moody and Carmen. Newspaper advertisements and direct-mail solicitations to physicians began spreading the telephone numbers of "referral agencies," many of them charging more than $100 simply to act as intermediaries for women who wanted New York abortions. An Ohio businessman set up an enterprise called Aeromedic, which promised to use light planes to fly women round trip from Cincinnati to an abortion clinic in western New York. One hired airplane, its trailing banner announcing the number of a private referral agency, startled December vacationers by buzzing Miami Beach. "Our patients got kidnaped," Carmen says. "They'd get to the airport, and there'd be some hustler out there saying, 'You going to Women's Services?' You've got to remember, you've got hundreds of women coming into bus and train stations and airports every day of the week, so it was easy for hustlers. Cab drivers were getting kickbacks for patients. You had to be absolutely persistent to get to the place you wanted to go to and not be distracted or deflected by somebody who was going to get 50 bucks for taking you somewhere else." And although the clinics were legal in New York, there was still some uncertainty about the legality of directing women to abortions from states whose laws still prohibited most abortions. A Florida student newspaper editor was arrested after he included in one day's paper a guide to abortion referral agencies; he was charged with violating a state law forbidding the publication of abortion information, and his case caused a small journalistic uproar in Florida until a state judge finally found the publication law unconstitutional. A Virginia news weekly editor published an abortion referral service advertisement and was convicted under a state law forbidding publication of material "encouraging" abortions; the appeals in his case took four years, and his conviction was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. "We simply took the grounds that this was constitutional, and that we had the constitutional right to refer people to anyplace in the United States where abortions were legal," says the Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, the American Baptist minister who ran the Illinois clergy referral service from his post as a campus chaplain at the University of Chicago. "I was naive enough to think that was true, and I didn't think we'd be bothered. And furthermore, we didn't think that if it went to court we could lose." Parsons appeared to be right. A rabbi with the Illinois clergy service had faced 1970 conspiracy charges after one referral to an illegal Michigan abortionist, but that prosecution was never pursued, and the authorities made no move to step in when the Illinois ministers began handing out Manhattan addresses later that year. The figures seemed to suggest that nothing short of border closure was going to curtail the flow of women into New York anyway. By mid-1971, according to New York health department data, almost 140,000 legal abortions had been reported within New York City, and about two-thirds of those had been performed on women from outside the state. Most of them were coming from east of the Mississippi, according to the data; women from the western states appeared to be traveling in considerable numbers to California, where legal abortions still required psychiatric approval, but the approval had become something of a theatrical process that required little more than the psychiatrists' fees. By late 1971 the first open abortion clinics had also set up business in Washington, where District law had been judicially interpreted to allow legal abortions to women who could convince doctors that their physical or mental health compelled abortion. And as a kind of triangular circuit began to compose itself, with legal abortions readily available at each of the three points, some data began to suggest what kind of women were making the trips out of state. New York figures showed that the racial mix was nearly even among city residents who sought abortions at clinics inside the city -- white and minority women appeared to be having about the same number of abortions. But among the nonresidents who went to New York for a legal abortion, nearly all of them -- the figure was 90 percent the first year, and close to that in the years that followed -- were white. Those were numbers the clergy service ministers might have predicted three years earlier. No one could really prove whether black women wanted abortions in the same proportions as white women, but the ministers saw right away that the women who were coming to their churches -- the women who listened without protest to the explanations of doctors' fees and transportation costs -- were almost exclusively middle-class and white. Howard Moody had been complaining about this nearly from the beginning. "One of his most poignant disparities between dream and reality was the fact that this wonderful service that he and Arlene were foundingwere spreading as far and wide as they could possibly do, giving their lifeblood to disseminating -- this wonderful idea was really only helping affluent women," says the Rev. Charles Straut, the United Methodist minister who ran the New Jersey clergy service. "And he knew it. We couldn't figure out a way to help the women who really needed the help. We were always talking to people, when we did public speaking, about back-alley abortions done with coat hangers, but we knew damn well that that was only done on the poorest and most unfortunate women, who never could have been helped out by our so-called 'counseling service' anyhow. Because we could find a whole lot of $400 abortions, and a whole lot of $1,000 and $2,000 abortions, but we couldn't find any abortions for free." This month, the month of the oral argument in William L. Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the month the Supreme Court may decide to reexamine Roe v. Wade, the Rev. Howard Moody has hung a sign on the front of his church. People can walk across the street from Washington Square Park and look up from the sidewalk if they want to read the words, which are excerpted from the writings of a minister at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. "There really can be no justification for treating fetal life as if fully human," the text begins, "when existent female human persons are not valued at least to the same degree." It is not a conciliatory message, and that is why Moody put it there. When the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade in January 1973, thus upending in a single day nearly every state abortion law in the country, it was only a matter of months before the answering machines stopped taking telephone calls for the 1,400 ministers who had followed Moody's lead as abortion referral volunteers. Women who could reach the local abortion clinic through their telephone books did not have much use for the confidential guidance of a clergyman. And when clergy-referred women stopped arriving in vast numbers at Women's Services, the clinic foundered and nearly folded; Judson Church staff members took over its administration, and for some years, at a greatly diminished scale, Howard Moody and Arlene Carmen helped run the clinic themselves. Moody saw abortions being performed, and listened to arguments over the nature of the fetus, and watched the antiabortion movement swell slowly into a force of considerable voice and political power. He says none of this has changed his mind. "I always hope to be a person that learns something from moving on," Moody says. "On this one, I've never moved from my original position. It doesn't matter how scientifically good we get at pushing things here and there; the fact of the matter is you have conflicting rights, conflicting interests. And the interests of an adult human woman, no matter how far you push back viability or anything else, are never the same as a zygote or an embryo or a fetus. They're not. And if you said those were equal rights, I would deny it, that's all. I can't accept that on any kind of pragmatic grounds." Suppose it were suggested, the minister and his colleague are asked, that women who wanted abortions did not fare so very badly in the years when some states prohibited it and some states did not. There was a Clergy Service, after all; there was California and New York and Washington, and by 1972 there were clinics in other states, too, and people willing to help women get to them. Was the work of the clergymen evidence in itself that women would find safe abortions even if many state laws once again made abortion a crime? "No, it wasn't," Moody says. "It made women dependent. Women were dependent on going to the right people, or talking to the right people, or getting the right phone number. And we're talking about women smart enough and able enough to find the right people. Those middle-class women that we were so helpful with -- they'll find a way to travel. Once again it's the poor women, that don't have any options -- they won't be able to travel." Carmen says she cannot imagine that the physicians themselves would now react to restrictive state laws the way they did in the years before Roe. "We now have a huge number of doctors all over this country who are used to doing abortions," she says. "And we now would have more civil disobedience than we did in the old illegal days. I don't think it will ever be exactly the way it was in 1967, when we had nothing. There's too much history, experience and knowledge." And Carmen and Moody say this, too, on the week their sign is affixed to the outside wall of Judson Memorial Church: If they believed they had to defy the law again to guide women to abortions, they would. "I would commit civil disobedience," Moody says. "I would do anything I needed to do. There's nothing I still feel as strong about."