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February 10, 2021 Steph Black

A Reproductive Shabbat

On a Saturday afternoon many months ago, I leaned across the center console of my car and pushed open my passenger side door to welcome in a stranger. I only knew her first name and cell phone number, and that she was having an abortion later in pregnancy. 

This was my Shabbat, bringing her back and forth between one of the five clinics that would perform the procedure she needed and the modest hotel a mile away. 


I was a freshman in college when I attended my first protest, invited along by older members of a feminist student organization. At that point, I didn’t know what the March for Life was, having grown up in a liberal bubble in a Boston suburb. To say I was alarmed at the sight of 16,000 anti-abortion opponents didn’t cover it. Our little counterprotest faced the largest gathering of Christians I had ever seen, the largest gathering of people openly demanding an end to abortion I’d ever seen. Until that point, I hadn’t really considered that anyone was actually anti-abortion. I hadn’t needed to. 

Just a few weeks later, I was asked to volunteer at the Supreme Court at a rally in support of Whole Women’s Health v. Texas. I jumped at the chance because the March for Life lit a fire in me. I didn’t know how exactly, but I knew that there was a way for me to counter the hate and lies I witnessed. So, I dragged myself out of bed before dawn and threw on as many layers as I could. Then, from 5:00 am until noon, I collected signatures of those attending the rally and listening to speaker after speaker declare their support for—nay, demand— reproductive justice. In front of me were senators, CEOs of nonprofits, people sharing their own abortion stories, and faith leaders. I had no idea how big the movement was but I knew I would be a part of it. 

Since then, I’ve been a clinic escort, practical support volunteer, abortion funder. I’ve built websites for pro-choice organizations, written op-eds. I hope to become an abortion doula. In every inch of my work, I am guided by my Jewish values. Though it might not always be overt, my religion is a major part of why and how I show up. And when it is overt, it’s intentional. 

Showing up in the reproductive freedom movement as a proud Jew is crucial because it undermines the myth that all religious people and all religions are anti-abortion. This is not to say there aren’t those who use their faith traditions as a sword, twisting their ideologies to fit their political agenda. But in Judaism, abortion is not only permitted in certain circumstances, it’s required. This week’s Torah portion, Shabbat Mishpatim, is the foundation on which this belief is built. 

Now, there are several ways that I, a proud Jewish woman who has worked for years to advance abortion access and reproductive justice, can answer the canard about religious people who “don’t believe in abortion.” 

The easiest response is that abortion exists, and abortions happen regardless of your “belief in them.” Despite the constant onslaught of anti-abortion bills introduced and passed, anti-abortion judges confirmed, and the anti-abortion stigma that seeps into our conversations, the media we consume, and our religious spaces. Abortion–and those who continue to fight for it–exist. They persist, as part of women’s reproductive lives.

That’s why organizations like National Council of Jewish Women are imperative in changing this misconception. Because Jews have an enormous responsibility here. NCJW shows up as an out-loud pro-choice coalition of over 60 sections across the United States that’s made up of Jewish women and allies. Our work to advance reproductive freedom involves making sure the judges on our courts are fair, qualified, and independent, protecting and promoting the vote, advocating for pro-choice legislation, and more. 

However, the Jewish community has work to do. Until we are comfortable loudly discussing abortion and reproductive freedom in our communities, we will inadvertently perpetuate the idea that abortion is taboo or that the stigma around abortion is too great to allow us to break it. So long as abortion is seen as secular, something to do with the world beyond the bimah and the synagogue doors instead of something happening in the pews, we fall short. 

And for me, the real beauty of our work comes from the ways in which we infuse our tradition with our values. After the June Medical Services v Russo Supreme Court Decision in the summer of 2020, we launched the first-of-it’s kind campaign, #RabbisForRepro. The response was overwhelming. Now, over 1,000 Rabbis, Rabbas, Maharot, Cantors, Jewish educators, and Jewish leaders have signed our pledge to use their moral authority to speak out for reproductive freedom. 

This Shabbat, Shabbat Mishpatim, NCJW is partnering with local Jewish communities across the country to focus on the intersection of reproductive freedom and Jewish values. So far, almost 250 communities have heeded the call and are inviting local activists to speak on panels, congregants to join in discussion groups, and community members to listen to their sermons. Together, we will collectively affirm that those among us who have had abortions are b’tzelem Elohim, made in the image of God. We will affirm that protecting and expanding access to abortion in a hostile world is pikuach nefesh. We will affirm our commitment to education, advocacy, and community service to create social change. 

I didn’t get involved with the reproductive freedom movement because of my Judaism. And I didn’t get more involved with my Jewish identity through my activism. But through my activism, I’ve become a better Jew and through my Judaism, I’ve become a better activist. 

So when it came to making the decision to use my precious Shabbat hours driving an abortion patient all those months ago, it wasn’t a hard decision. I wasn’t driving her in spite of my Jewish practice, driving her was my Jewish practice. 

This Shabbat, I will be continuing the conversation of why abortion access is a Jewish value by participating in NCJW’s Repro Shabbat. Please join me by visiting

Steph Black is a writer, activist and clinic escort in D.C. who is passionate about the intersections of Judaism and feminism.