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Tag : abortion

January 16, 2020 by

This Year, We Will Fight for Abortion.

Abortion rights are suspended from a precipice in states across the country. Activists are fighting not only unjust laws, but also our own side’s fatigue after decades of backlash.

How to find clarity and purpose in the middle of this sense of overwhelm, and share space with other urgent issues — from the environment to immigration? Here is how an intergenerational cross-section of leaders, activists and writers plan to rededicate their selves to abortion rights in the coming months. Within each of these plans is a list of ways for us, too, to take action.

In 2020 I will work to elect those who will let women decide when or whether they will have a child and support the centers that are providing the services to women— including creating them ourselves! Only if we organize, can we change this world.

HEATHER BOOTH is an American civil rights activist, feminist, and political strategist and the founder of the Jane Collective, a pre-Roe network of underground abortion services. 

I will become an abortion doula to guide folks undergoing the procedure.

STEPH BLACK is a writer and activist in DC who is passionate about the intersections of Judaism and feminism.

 I plan to do a number of things. Here are some:

• Make sure everyone knows about Euki, a free app released by Women Help Women that has information about how and where to access an abortion in the U.S., including how to self-manage an abortion.

• Talk more openly and honestly about the challenges of motherhood in hopes of giving others permission to do the same, and point to the systemic inequalities (lack of universal childcare, lack of one-year paid parental leave, workplaces hostile to families, etc) that lead to this so moms stop blaming themselves for not being perfect. We can’t “life hack” our way out of parenting problems when really, the systems are failing us. This is reproductive justice too.

• Hold the leaders of reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations accountable for creating healthy work environments for their staff, who are doing the majority of the work trying to keep abortion legal in this country and deserve to have the best benefits and salaries.

• Hold journalists, movement leaders, and funders accountable for centering the voices, experiences, and leadership of women of color, especially Black women, and funding them at the highest level to do reproductive health, rights, and justice work

• Center racism and systemic equities in all conversations about abortion, and make sure every panel, article, or event about abortion has multiple people who’ve had abortions on/in it.

• Continue to make monthly donations to my local abortion fund and abortion funds in the South and Midwest, and to All-Options, who provide emotional support to people through all pregnancy experiences.

STEPH HEROLD is a researcher who studies depictions of abortion on TV and film while chasing after a two-year-old and a dog.

This year I’m committing to calling out abortion stigma when I see and hear it. Abortion stigma is negative and incorrect beliefs about abortion. Sometimes abortion stigma is easy to recognize, i.e. “Abortion is dangerous.” This is demonstrably untrue, according to actual science. Sometimes, though, it’s more subtle and insidious, like, “I would never have an abortion, but it’s fine for other people,” and, “No one wants to have an abortion.” Abortion stigma literally prevents people from being able to access abortion care and from seeking it, even when they know it’s what they want, because yes, sometimes people actually do want to have abortions. So this year, I’ll be unrepentantly yelling about abortion stigma, and this is your warning.

CHANEL DUBOFSKY writes fiction and non-fiction in Brooklyn, NY.

 As a writer, this year I will find new ways to deepen and widen the conversation about abortion, without sacrificing passion or avoiding conflict. Stories can be bridges.

ELLEN MEEROPOL is the author of four novels, Her Sister’s Tattoo, Kinship of Clover, On Hurricane Island, and House Arrest

 I welcome 2020 with unapologetic enthusiasm for abortion, plans for relentless organizing to dismantle reproductive oppression, and the knowledge that we have nothing to lose but our chains. Onward, until justice is won!

PAMELA MERRITT, co-director of Reproaction, a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice.



Anyone who is passionate about defending reproductive freedom can make an impact in this fight. You can send a message to your lawmakers — especially if you live in one of the 31 states that have introduced or passed extreme bans on abortion this year alone — and make it clear that you expect them to stand up for reproductive rights.

You can help make our work possible by donating to NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion fund in your community, or another organization fighting for reproductive freedom.

If you’re ready to dig deeper, you can sign up to volunteer and attend events in your community with NARAL.

Actions as simple as informing yourself about the threats to abortion access and talking to your friends and family about how high the stakes are can be incredibly powerful because the anti-choice movement depends on people’s silence and the spread of disinformation about abortion to advance their deeply unpopular agenda.

ILYSE HOGUE, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America 

 Here’s a little-known fact: federal judges serve lifetime appointments. That means that no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office in a few years or even decades, an unprecedented number of right-wing federal judges personally nominated by President Trump will still be sitting on the bench. As a direct result, generations of women could lose their reproductive rights. They will lose them on our watch.

It isn’t often that you see crowds protesting outside of Federal District Courts, as thousands did in D.C. during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

It is time for that to change.

We must harness that energy in our local communities, too. Federal courts, unlike a bill in Congress or a legislative push in a state house, seem distant to most voters. But changing them is completely within reach. And women can and should drive that change — before, during and after these judges are nominated.

Democrat and Republican members of Congress need to be held responsible for allowing the undermining of our courts.

SHEILA KATZ, CEO of National Council of Jewish Women

 We will raise awareness of Crisis Pregnancy Centers and the danger they pose to reproductive healthcare through our Pro-Truth campaign. Crisis Pregnancy Centers exist as a service arm of the anti-abortion movement, working to keep pregnant people from being able to access the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare choices, including abortion. Our campaign works to educate people about Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and to advocate for laws to regulate these fake clinics. You can find out more and get involved at

AVIVA ZADOFF is the Director of Advocacy and Volunteer Engagement National Council of Jewish Women New York

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January 7, 2020 by

The Fake Abortion Clinics That Mislead Patients

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You’re well aware of the dire state of reproductive justice in the United States. You know that recent legislative moves such as the so-called “Heartbeat Bills” and the reduction of funding for Planned Parenthood severely threaten the lives of all folks capable of pregnancy or experiencing health conditions that affect the female reproductive system. 

But there’s another threat to reproductive justice which works in tandem with these laws. Because even as abortion access gets choked by a million restrictions, Crisis Pregnancy Centers proliferate.

CPCs, also known as “fake abortion clinics” or, euphemistically, “Pregnancy Resource Centers” are essentially anti-choice hubs of misinformation. Often located in close proximity to an abortion-providing women’s health center such as Planned Parenthood, they aim to reach pregnant, option-seeking people before they make the choice to terminate. Many are religiously affiliated. However, as nonprofit organizations, they are also eligible to receive Title X funding.

In New York City, CPCs must adhere to legal guidelines intended to ensure that visitors are aware that they are not entering an abortion clinic, or even a medical center. New York City Local Law 17 requires these offices to display disclosure statements in both English and Spanish, advising visitors that they do not employ licensed medical professionals, and thus conveying that they will be receiving social services, but not medical services. However, Centers outside of NYC are entirely unregulated, as they are not technically medical centers or businesses. Even so, they can and do interfere with the health of their “patients.”

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November 5, 2019 by

The Right’s Plan to Destroy Legal Abortion

The End of Roe v. WadeForty-six years after the US Supreme Court ruled that state bans on first trimester abortion violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of privacy, a well-organized and well-funded anti-choice movement remains hellbent on ending access to both surgical and medical (mifepristone followed by misoprostol) procedures.

This isn’t new.

Nonetheless, the incremental narrowing of access has put abortion out of reach for many Americans. To wit: 87 percent of counties have no providers and six states are served by just a single clinic, all-too-often forcing patients to travel hundreds of miles to get the healthcare they need. What’s more, according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, 27 states require would-be patients to wait between 24 and 72 hours between counseling and the procedure (and often require the counselor to report that abortion has been linked to breast cancer and mental illness, claims refuted by every reputable medical authority) and 37 states require parental involvement in the abortions of pregnant minors. Add in prohibitions on Medicaid funding; regulations demanding that pregnant people listen to the fetal heartbeat or have more than one sonogram before surgery; and mandates that force clinics to become ambulatory surgery centers, and it’s obvious why the number of abortions has fallen. It’s also easy to understand why the number of clinics has plummeted, from more than 2000 in 1991 to 788 in 2017.

These disturbing turns are thoroughly dissected in reporter Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo’s second co-authored book, The End of Roe v. Wade. The text also chronicles the approximately 400 abortion restrictions that have been legislated by state lawmakers since 2010.

It’s a disturbing, even chilling, read, and while the book might have zeroed in on the organization behind most of the model legislation that has been disseminated to receptive state lawmakers— Americans United for Life—overall, the pair’s analysis provides a grim reminder of what’s at stake should Roe fall.

Trump, of course, is the linchpin of this possibility since one of his campaign promises—fulfilled—was to nominate fervently anti-choice ideologues to the Supreme Court. Indeed, Trump’s fawning over social-issue conservatives has been blatant. As Marty and Pieklo write, “His entire administration has been organized with the specific intention of widening the path for white Catholic and evangelical supporters to have their religious dogma elevated as official federal policy…The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is now dedicated to ensuring that the ‘right to life’ is upheld under all circumstances— from forcing teens to give birth against their will, to funneling money from comprehensive family planning organizations to faith-based, anti-birth control ‘medical clinics.’“ In addition, slack enforcement of FACE, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, enacted in 1994 and enforced by the Department of Justice, has led to increased protests at clinics and an uptick in threats against providers. Predictably, Trump’s DOJ has not brought charges against a single clinic disruptor or trespasser.

The End of Roe v. Wade argues that it is folly to expect them to. Instead, the authors put abortion’s defense squarely in the hands of the reproductive justice movement. While the book posits neither strategies nor tactics, Marty and Pieklo stress that abortion, once deemed a matter of settled law, is perched dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. At this juncture, it’s up to us to summon the chutzpah and rage to keep it from toppling over.

Eleanor J. Bader teaches English at Kingsborough Community College-CUNY, and writes for publications and blogs including Truthout. Kirkus Reviews, The Indypendent, the LA Review of Books, Fiction Writers Review, and The Progressive.

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August 22, 2019 by

In Tennessee, Fighting Back as a Jew Against the Abortion Ban Hearing

By Laurie Rice

On August 13, testifying against the comprehensive abortion ban being considered by the state legislature…

To the Senate Judiciary committee—thank you for having me here today. I am honored to speak before you. My name is Rabbi Laurie Rice. I have been an ordained rabbi for 18 years. A graduate of Northwestern University, I received my Masters of Hebrew Letters and rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. I serve on the Ethics Committee for Alive Hospice and as an Ambassador for the Amend Program through the YWCA, which works to end domestic violence in Tennessee by helping men and boys become better versions of themselves.   

In the summer of 1996, I moved to Israel for my first year of rabbinic school. I lived in Jerusalem, with others studying to become rabbis, for our first of five years’ study towards ordination. That year, I met the man who two years later would become my husband. To be honest, when we went for our pre-marital counseling, we were each asked how many children we wanted to have. My husband said five. I said one. We had some things to talk about!  

I said I wanted one child, but really I wasn’t even sure about having any. I was only 28. But then one day, not long after, I was ready. And when that happened, I couldn’t have a child fast enough. I was so excited to be a mom, and I couldn’t wait for my husband to be a father. I knew he would be amazing.

It didn’t take us long to get pregnant, much to my husband’s dismay. We were on our way. We bought the necessary prenatal vitamins, said goodbye to wine and raw fish, and visited the doctor for all the prescribed appointments. And then, at 22 weeks, we learned that our fetus wasn’t growing as it should, and it turned out, after a series of tests, that our fetus was a triploid, meaning it had 3 sets of every chromosome where a healthy fetus has two. I hoped this meant our baby would be bionic, but what it really meant was that our fetus would likely not come to term, and if it was born it would not make it even one year.    

We. Were. Crushed. We were given two choices. To go forward and see what happened. Or to have a second trimester abortion. I sobbed. Day in and day out, I sobbed. I sobbed about the baby I would not mother. I sobbed about the dreams that died in that very moment. And I knew right away that I wanted to have the abortion. Because I wanted to have a baby. I wanted to be a mother. And I couldn’t do that until we could start over and try again.     

This is not a debate between those who are for abortion and those who are against it. No one I know is FOR abortion. If a woman finds herself in a situation in which abortion is a consideration, she is in distress, and the alternative is most often either mentally or physically impairing. Or both. The debate over abortion is, in fact, a debate over a woman’s right to choose—but in our great nation today, that right has become primarily a matter of faith. 

As I am in the business of faith, allow me to say a little more about this. When Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans, she invoked her faith. She said, “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”     

In January, the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Kirk Cox, cited the Book of Psalms when he came out against a proposed bill that would lift restrictions on abortions. He quoted Psalm 139: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born.”   

Let me tell you how I, a rabbi, read the scripture. I, too, believe that every life is precious and a gift from God.  

However, while my Christian colleagues and friends understand a fetus to represent human life, the Jewish tradition, the foundation of Christianity, does not believe that the fetus has a soul, and it is therefore not a life, as it is written in Genesis: “And God breathed the soul of life into human, and they lived.” Furthermore, Judaism refers to the fetus in Hebrew as a rodef, a pursuer. The rodef or fetus only exists because it feeds off the mother. In fact, if the presence of the fetus puts the mother’s life in danger, abortion is condoned. The wellbeing of the mother takes precedence. Existing life takes precedence over potential life, and a woman’s life and her pain take precedence over a fetus.   

But the strongest argument in our Bible for permitting abortion comes from Exodus, Chapter 21, verses 22-23: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take a life for a life.”  

 The words “gives birth prematurely” could mean the woman miscarries, and the fetus dies. Because there’s no expectation that the person who caused the miscarriage is liable for murder, Jewish scholars argue this proves a fetus is not considered a separate person or soul.

 Jewish law is also helpful when discussing abortion. The Talmud, our compendium of Jewish law, explains that for the first 40 days of a woman’s pregnancy, the fetus is considered “mere fluid” and considered part of the mother until birth. The baby is considered a nefesh, Hebrew for “soul” or “spirit” once its head has emerged, and not before.   

Furthermore, Jewish tradition and scholars have also acknowledged a pregnant woman’s potential “great need” to terminate a pregnancy. It is clear that in Jewish law an Israelite is not liable to capital punishment for feticide…. An Israelite woman was permitted to undergo a therapeutic abortion, even though her life was not at stake…. This ruling applies even when there is no direct threat to the life of the mother, but merely a need to save her from great pain, which falls within the rubric of a “great need.”  

Now you might be saying, “I really hope she stops quoting scripture and makes a point!” Christians and Jews could go back and forth all day long on the interpretation of scripture, because interpretation cannot be objective by the very definition of the word “interpretation.” Throughout history, scripture has been used to legitimize all kinds of evil and depravity, such as the decimation of Jews in Europe, and the right to enslave black people here in this great nation. I can tell Christians that they are interpreting scripture incorrectly, and they can say the same about me. Can any of us truly know what it is that God wants? Who among us is so full of hubris to say that we know? In a nation founded as a wellspring for all faiths, races, and creeds, do we really want to allow for one religious group to prescribe rules and decisions for all, based on one particular interpretation of scripture?  

That is not America. America is about religious freedom, is it not? There is no doubt that faith informs each of our views on a variety of subjects, but that’s exactly what they are—personal views, not something for everyone else to comment or legislate on.  

If this hearing is about the constitutionality of this particular bill banning all abortion, ask yourself: Are you prepared to admit that you prefer an America that is not based on religious freedom? Are we, the great state of Tennessee, prepared to join the march in making that declaration?   

True religious freedom, if you value that, is a shield to protect all religions, and it is never a sword to discriminate. My tradition, the Jewish tradition, teaches that women don’t have abortions they want. I can promise you that I did not want a triploid fetus. (And Senator Bowling, since you brought up the issue of percentages, noting that only 1% of pregnancies derive from a situation of rape, allow me to point out that only 1-2% of pregnancies result in a triploid abnormality. If you are the 1% with a triploid, or the 1% who is raped, then it’s 100% for you. Period.) I did not want to learn at nearly 6 months of pregnancy that I would likely not give birth to a live baby, and that if I did it would most certainly die within the first year. Women do not have abortions they want. They have abortions they need.  

To ban abortion is to blatantly diminish the rights of women to advocate for what they need. How many of you men would honestly feel comfortable with your same rights diminished?   


Laurie Rice is the co-senior Rabbi of Congregation Micah in Brentwood, Tennessee. She serves alongside her husband, Rabbi Philip “Flip” Rice. When not leading and pastoring to her community or taking on a variety of social justice issues, she runs miles on the roads and trails of Nashville and hangs out with her kids.

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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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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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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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