Tag : abortion

The Lilith Blog

August 15, 2019 by

“Ask For Jane” Tells the Abortion Story You Never Heard, But Should Have

For those of us born at the tail end of the 20th century, a world without legal abortion is tough to imagine. Bluntly showing a society in which unwanted pregnancies can quickly become death sentences and where even talking about abortion can lead to jail time, newly released biopic “Ask for Jane” makes sure we know exactly what this world looked like.

The film, directed by Rachel Carey and released one short year after Lilly Rivlin’s documentary “Heather Booth: Changing the World,” tells the story of the Jane Collective, an underground, illegal abortion service run out of Chicago between 1968-1973. Created by a college student who connected pregnant women with abortion doctors through her dorm room phone, the “Janes” developed into a volunteer network dedicated to providing safe abortions to women at the lowest possible cost. In 1971, after discovering that one of their “doctors” faked having a medical license, a number of the Janes even became “abortionists” themselves, doing the procedure for whatever price each woman could afford to pay. The makeshift clinic was eventually raided in 1972 and led to the arrest of seven volunteers who would become infamous as the “Abortion 7.” Despite facing up to 110 years in prison, the Janes continued helping pregnant women while out on bail. All charges against them were dropped shortly after abortion was made legal nationwide. In the final years before Roe v. Wade was decided, the Janes provided 11,000 women with safe abortions.

Far from devolving into partisanship, “Ask for Jane” stresses that the right to abortion is imperative for every woman regardless of whether she is Democrat or Republican, Catholic or atheist. All women can find themselves pregnant when they don’t want to be. All women are on the losing side of the war. The film shows teenagers, rich Park Avenue wives, low-income workers, survivors of rape, college students, women of color, mothers—every imaginable type of woman in the clinic waiting room. Speaking at a talkback following a screening of the film in Manhattan, creator and star of “Ask for Jane” Cait Cortelyou pointed to this diversity as the most important aspect of the movie. “I was interested in humanizing those stories,” she said, “because I feel like a lot of the conversation has gotten away from the individuals who are affected by the policies that are made.”

Yet, beyond reinforcing the necessity of safe, legal abortion for all women and introducing audiences to a badass activist group that is ignored in high school history class for the sake of covering more white guys, “Ask for Jane” distinguishes itself by representing a brutal and holistic picture of women’s reproductive welfare that extends far past abortion itself.

The lack of knowledge surrounding sex, for instance, is consistently cited as a major cause of unplanned pregnancy throughout the film. One of the characters—all of whom are fictionalized—works at a Catholic high school where she smuggles sex ed pamphlets to students, raging that abstinence-only education leaves kids clueless and at risk. Today that simple fact remains true, with those schools and states teaching girls to keep their legs closed having higher teen pregnancy rates than their condom-wielding, pill-popping counterparts.

The overwhelmingly patriarchal nature of society at the time (today too, let’s be real) further stands as a clear impediment not only to women’s autonomy but also to their general health. A newly engaged character asks an elderly, male gynecologist for a birth control prescription. He refuses to give her one on the grounds of her unmarried status. Luckily, he assures her, if she returns with a husband who will give his permission, she can get the pill. Similarly, a pregnant mother of two learns that a tumor in her abdomen can be removed, but she runs the risk of losing her baby in the process. Though she immediately agrees to the surgery that will save her life, it’s not up to her. As the legal owner of her body, her husband gets to decide whether she lives or dies.

Today, in the midst of the most virulent wave of anti-abortion legislation since Roe v. Wade, “Ask for Jane” serves as a reminder that such a vicious restriction as the outlawing of abortion does not emerge in a vacuum and cannot be fought in isolation. Rather it is a by-product of a society run by and for men that considers the purpose of women to be childbearing. Period. Women are denied education regarding their own anatomy and safe sex. They are refused birth control. Men decide what women may or may not do with their bodies. It’s not just that abortion is illegal, it’s that all of society is built for women to have kids—whether they want to or not. And if there is a push to take us back to the days of criminalized abortion, there is a push to restore the larger social order that came with it, something that must be fought with the same fervor as anti-abortion legislation itself.

“Ask for Jane” is not a movie for viewers to leave behind in the theater with sticky floors and popcorn containers. Rather, it is the motivation for burnt-out activists to keep fighting in the face of crushing opposition. It is the hope that all women will unite on this issue and fight for the protection of legal. It is the source of anxiety propelling the idle to action, turning “heartbeat” bills and abortion-provider deserts from headlines on our phones to a bleak reality accessible even to those who never lived in a United States that criminalized abortion. And, most importantly, it is the game plan, reminding us to direct our energies not only to abortion, but to the availability of birth control, comprehensive sex ed, and the abolition of patriarchal culture. To keep the fight for women’s reproductive health on track, movies like “Ask for Jane” are crucial. In the words of Gloria Steinem herself: “It is a movie that should be seen by every American.”

 

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The Lilith Blog

August 6, 2019 by

Escorting at an Abortion Clinic is Praying with My Feet

I often come up against a presumption by those on the left that being religious and politically progressive are incongruous But the fight for reproductive freedom and the Jewish values by which I choose to live my life are one and the same. These values have spurred me into action. Recently, I officially became a trained clinic escort with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force because of my Jewish values.

Clinic escorting, also called clinic defending, is the act of guiding patients from their vehicles and into a clinic that provides abortion care. But escorts also serve as the eyes and ears of a clinic: keeping a lookout for suspicious activity, watching for anti-choicers breaking the law or trespassing, and signaling to the world that we will not be intimidated, bullied, or harassed out of providing care for those who want it. On some days, clinics can face crowds upwards of hundreds of protestors. 

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The Lilith Blog

July 16, 2019 by

“Failed Self-Abortion With a Wire Hanger”: A Letter from a Namesake to an Ancestor

Dear Jennie, 

Despite our shared name, your life and death were clarified for me only in college, when I started to develop a vocabulary for seeing the world through gender, power, class, suffering and solidarity. I began to realize that the way my family had passively glorified your story as one of dire poverty alone missed several crucial, intersecting points—your gender, the drive to control the female body, autonomy, motherhood, the value of a life, and the devastation of death and desperation. No one mentioned until recently, at least to my knowledge, that you likely struggled with depression. Me, too.

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July 9, 2019 by

Everyone Loves Someone Who’s Had an Abortion

If you feel panicked, scared, and angry, that’s ok—channel that into action. Here’s how:

1. Abortion is still legal. Help people access it where you live. Many of the new restrictive laws are not yet in effect, and are or will be tied up in court. Make sure you have accurate information about the status of the laws before spreading information. Instead of saying we should abandon people in these states, offer your support! No one should have to leave their family or state to get healthcare.

2. Donate to abortion funds in the South and Midwest. Abortion funds help close the gap between how much an abortion costs and how much someone can afford to pay. Funds provide financial assistance and many also help people with lodging, transportation, and emotional support before, during, and after their abortion. Funds in the South and Midwest are often hit hardest by abortion restrictions, and are working behind the scenes 24/7 to connect people to the care they need. Find a fund here, and become a monthly donor.

3. Share information about self-managed abortion. As legal abortion is pushed completely out of reach for more and more people, it’s crucial that we share accurate information about self-managed abortion with pills. This practice is medically safe (the World Health Organization even lists abortion pills as “essential medications” that can be taken without the supervision of a clinician) although the practice is not legal in most states. Read up on how to self-manage an abortion from experts like Women Help Women, who have a US-based program called SASS. Share their stickers, flyers, and information on social media and in your community.

4. Let your friends know that everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion. Be explicit about your support for abortion, about listening to and loving your friends who’ve had them, and about your commitment to protecting abortion access. We need you now more than ever.

STEPH HEROLD, “How You Can Support Abortion Rights Today,” The Lilith Blog, May 15, 2019.

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July 2, 2019 by

Susan Weidman Schneider on the Jewish Stake in Abortion Rights

susan- from editor

In 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade gave women a constitutional right to abortion, letters addressed to medical personnel across the U.S. announced that in New York State abortions had become legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Doctors elsewhere could refer women seeking abortions to facilities in New York. Safe, legal abortions were at last availablefor some women.

The experience could still be fraught, however. One New York City obstetrician-gynecologist told me of women coming to his office bearing a deliberately nasty letter of referral from their local doctor. “To the Abortionist” was one such salutation, with the envelope deliberately left unsealed, so that the woman could have the unsettling experience of reading, en route to her appointment, that she was about to murder her baby.

What underlies such a letter is same punishing, patriarchal, judgmental attitude that drives today’s challenges to Roe. It’s what commentator Rachel Maddow describes as the Trump administration’s “performative cruelty,” and includes decidedly anti-“life,” anti-child policies like the separation of infants and children from their parents at the southern border of the U.S. The laws Georgia and Alabama passed this spring don’t just fly in the face of federal law. “Instead,” The Washington Post reminded us, “they represent a dramatic and unprecedented escalation of antiabortion law in the United States… far, far worse than a simple Roe reversal.”

These new laws are greasing a once-unimaginable retrograde slide. The actual wording of Roe states that “unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional.” Yet the new laws want to refuse exceptions even in cases of rape or incest. 

By forbidding almost all abortions, these laws, in addition to their vicious misogyny, are a violation of our rights as Jews to practice our religion. Here’s a brief refresher course: Jewish law privileges the life of the mother over the status of the fetus. When a woman’s life or health are endangered by pregnancy, the fetus becomes a “pursuer,” as if the woman were under attack by an enemy. Simply put, if the woman’s health—including in some instances even her mental healthis threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy, Jewish law declares the pregnancy may be terminated. 

Jewish women took this understanding to heart when, in 1987, conservative judge Robert Bork was nominatedand failed to be confirmedto the Supreme Court. Widespread opposition hinged in large part on Bork’s anti-abortion stance. When leaders of Jewish women’s organizations gathered to strategize, they focused on how it stifled freedom of religion. Yet last year when Brett Kavanaugh was nominated (and later confirmed) for a seat on the Court, freedom of religion had faded as a valid opposition point. 

In our precipitous present, what can we learn from these earlier struggles? 

Whisper networks used to signal to pregnant women where they could obtain a sometimes safe, sometimes life-threatening abortion. And then came Jane, the courageous cadre of young women, most not medical professionals, who learned how to perform abortions themselves. “Jane” performed an estimated 11,000 abortions in the years just before Roe.

There was no technology then to monitor women’s bodies via ultrasound, “proving” the gestational age of the fetus or that it already had a heartbeat. In those days a miscarriage was a miscarriage, perhaps a sad event; now, a woman who miscarries risks being accused of homicide.

So pay attention to local rulings, like requiring a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an unnecessary vaginal probe,or be forced to view an ultrasound of the fetus. “Mandatory ultrasound laws have no medical justification,” according to NARAL“and are designed by anti-choice politicians solely to intimidate, shame and harass women who seek abortion.” Right!

Better news: DIY medical abortions are now possible even in the second trimester of pregnancy (13–24 weeks) using Mifepristonemisoprostol. A New York Times op-ed even advises women to get prescriptions for these drugs filled now, so you can stockpile the meds in case Roe is revoked. And abortion costs are now abated some by women and men donating to abortion funds. New York City this spring allocated $250,000 to help women in need pay for abortions—the first municipality to do so. (This with advocacy support from, among others, NCJW-NY.)

Remember from the AIDS epidemic that Silence = Death. If Roe is overturned, we’re talking women’s deaths. So ally yourself publicly right now with organizations supporting reproductive rights. Advocate; tell legislators where you stand. Get ready to speak out and change minds. And prepare to be shocked, as a friend of mine was when one of her book-group buddies declared categorical opposition to abortion.

Ask rabbis to give sermons on abortion rights, Jewish law and the threat the new legislation poses to religious freedom. Encourage clergy to earmark discretionary funds for low-income women needing an abortion. Let educators know you expect them to position abortion rights as an important tenet of Jewish law. Lobby religious and secular schools to provide accurate and useful sex ed, so that all students understand how to prevent pregnancy. 

Fight parental consent or notification laws; 39 states have them, and they undermine patient autonomy, according to the American Medical Association ethics journal. The journal reinforces something else you know. Any law “supporting physician refusal to refer patients for abortion on conscience grounds obscures the fact that providing abortion is, for many, also a conscience- and values-based decision.”

In struggle,

Susan Weidman Schneider

Editor in Chief

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The Lilith Blog

May 15, 2019 by

How You Can Support Abortion Rights Today

Yesterday, Alabama’s legislature voted to criminalize abortion, making it a felony punishable by up to 99 years in jail. Last week, Georgia’s governor signed a bill to ban abortions before most people know that they’re pregnant. Ohio signed a similarly stringent ban into law last month and legislators are now trying to force people to implant ectopic pregnancies into the uterus, which is medically impossible.

And this is just what’s making headlines—Louisiana legislators are trying to adding additional onerous administrative requirements for abortion facilities while also trying to pass an abortion ban, Michigan politicians are attempting to curtail the safest methods of second trimester abortion, and in Tennessee, the governor signed a law that would make abortion a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, in the event that Roe is overturned.

Feeling dizzy yet?

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The Lilith Blog

March 6, 2019 by

Abortion is Good for Children. You Heard Right.

As you inevitably consume the news cycle (and try not to get consumed by it), keep this in mind: Nearly 60% of people who have abortions are already parents. This statistic challenges anti-choice portrayals about who has abortions, and it also prompts the question: what do we know about the children of women who have had abortions? And conversely, what about the kids born to women who weren’t able to access abortion?

In 2016, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) released the results of the Turnaway Study. All of the 1,000 women who participated in the study were seeking abortion, but only some were able to access them. Those who were denied abortion care indicated decreased states of mental health, including the presence of anxiety and depression. The women who were able to get the abortion care they sought had positive mental health outcomes. In short, getting an abortion didn’t negatively impact subjects’ mental health, but if a woman couldn’t get the abortion she wanted, her mental health did suffer. (If you’re keeping track, that’s a direct refutation of the anti-choice claim that abortion causes harm to women’s mental health).

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January 10, 2019 by

In Med School Before Roe v. Wade

We chatted as the dialysis shift began. She was a young nursing student whose name and face I still remember five decades later, but I will just call her “Jane Roe.” She was from the Virgin Islands and had come to New York for nursing school. She was nearly done—justifiably proud, since she had funded it herself. I was a fourth-year medical student doing an elective rotation on what was called the “Renal-Metabolic Ward.” The dialysis machine was working well, so we continued to talk when we could as the hours went by. It was 1968, and dialysis would not be funded in the United States for another half-decade, which meant that any patient undergoing long-term dialysis had to have the means to pay for the treatments, one way or another, or the consequence was obvious—death, since kidney transplantation was in its infancy.

Dialysis shifts were long, and we changed the dialysate fluid (then called the “bath”) halfway through the treatment. We exchanged stories, as students do, about how school was going, what we’d seen on the floors, and what plans we had. Jane said she hoped to go back to St. Croix to serve people in her rural community. She liked it there better than the cold Northeast United States, anyway, she said.

Toward the end of the shift, some alarms on the machine went off, and we all did our part to stabilize the blood flow and the dialysate flow. Nothing so exact as modern hemodialysis, which delivers nearly automatic and precise dialysis care in comparison. But that treatment ended well.

There is another part to this story: Jane, the nursing student, was, in fact, the dialysis patient, and her odyssey had included far more than nursing school. Four months before I met her, Jane realized she was three months pregnant, despite always using contraceptives. She had a fiancé but was not yet married, and neither of them had the means to provide for a baby, so they reluctantly decided that terminating the pregnancy was the only choice. They planned to have children later, when they were both ready and could truly provide what they felt was right for a child. That way, Jane would also be able to continue her training and become a nurse.

So Jane did what thousands of young women were forced to do in the 1960s—she underwent a back-alley abortion. Though she had worried about going through with it, other young women she knew had used the same abortion doctor and had been fine. She went for the procedure with fear but also determination. Unfortunately, afterward Jane was not fine at all: she developed sepsis and multiorgan failure. She survived after weeks of hospitalization and near-death episodes, along the way enduring a hysterectomy and severe acute kidney failure, with bilateral cortical necrosis. Acute dialysis saved her life. However, Jane’s kidney function thereafter was essentially nil, and she continued on thrice-weekly dialysis, donated as compassionate care by the hospital. Jane and her fiancé married while she was in the hospital, hoping that she would gradually improve, receive a transplant, and resume her studies. She told me she was sad that she would never have a biologic child, but she was full of plans for the future.

A few weeks later, another complication developed—acute bleeding, with a hemothorax. I was the medical student on that dialysis shift, too. Jane was too ill to speak, though she was conscious and nodded hello, offering a weak smile. I chatted with her at the start of the dialysis run, but her status deteriorated, rapidly. There was a code. Though the team tried everything they could to resuscitate and stabilize her, she did not make it. We all cried.

Five years later, Jane would not have died—abortion had become legal in the United States. Over the ensuing decades, safe and legal abortion became standard. Thus, Jane would have, like me, become a grandmother, and would probably still be working and serving others.

Why am I telling Jane’s story now? The lack of legal and safe abortion before the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 killed and maimed thousands of young women. Should that decision be overturned and abortion again become illegal, there will be countless more young women like Jane.

From New England Journal of Medicine, August 23, 2018. Used with permission.

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January 10, 2019 by

Heather Booth on Film •

“To be an organizer you have to love people and hate injustice,” says Heather Booth, an organizer since the civil rights, anti-Vietnam war and women’s movements of the 1960s. She created JANE, the pre- Roe underground abortion service. Today, she continues her activism and leadership training social change organizers. She and her work are the subject of Lilly Rivlin’s new film “Heather Booth: Changing the World.” heatherbooththefilm.com

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September 26, 2018 by

Worried About Roe Now? Welcome to the Fight.

The bombshell news that Justice Anthony Kennedy—a reliable pro-abortion rights vote—is retiring from the Supreme Court means that Roe v. Wade is truly, seriously imperiled. We could wake up within a few years to find abortion fully illegal in over 20 states.

Ironically, in recent months, right up until the Kennedy-related outpouring of fear we’re seeing, abortion rights advocates had noticed a growing fatigue around the issue, while access to abortion was eroded almost daily.

There’s a difference between abortion being legal, which it technically is as of now in the U.S., and being able to get an abortion if you need one. Because of the scarcity of abortion providers, the power of abortion stigma restrictions in individual states, and the existence of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, actually getting abortion care is a challenge at best for folks in rural areas, poor folks, people of color, and other vulnerable populations. For these people, abortion access has never been a guarantee, and Roe v. Wade is nothing but a gesture.

So what can be done in the face of danger from the outside and fatigue within—especially now that Roe itself is likely to fall? M., an abortion clinic escort in California, told me her organization has been losing escorts rapidly, since postelection energy wore off in 2016. “Even the generally woke-ish people in my life genuinely have no idea how precarious our situation is right now. It’s tough, because there are so many things that people are understandably prioritizing— the rise of fascists, immigrant detention, etc., but at the same time, people don’t understand that all of these things are connected.” CHANEL DUBOFSKY, the Lilith Blog.

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