Is Abortion Access a Jewish Value?
Two Lilith writers, Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler, an abortion fund staffer and Steph Black, a practical support volunteer and clinic escort, talk about what it’s like to be in the trenches fighting for abortion access before and after the fall of Roe. (Hear more on Oct. 26 at our event, “Lilith Fights Back,” where both Steph and Justine will be panelists!) Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler: Is abortion a Jewish value? There are moments where I don’t think it is, but my Jewish values make me support abortion.
Steph Black: I love that phrase, and I do use it because I believe abortion is a moral good. The nuance is that every Jew should have the right to access an abortion if that’s what they need as part of their family planning or as part of their ability to live a fulfilling Jewish life. So I really do believe that access to abortion is a Jewish value even if it’s not that abortion is a Jewish value.
JOS: We can get bogged down in trying to find explicit theological support for our views. And for Jewish people in particular, because we’re not just a faith system we’re also an ethnicity, we’re a culture, we’re a people–there are going to be disagreements. It’s also tough because there are conversations you have as an in-group and then there are conversations you have with your broader community.
That sets us up nicely to tie in what you’ve done on the ground, Steph, in terms of Jewish reproductive justice organizing. I wonder if you have thoughts you want to share about what’s been great about being in specifically Jewish organizing spaces and where we might want to do better.
SB: It’s been really fulfilling and also really hard to be a Jew doing reproductive justice work. I can’t think of anything more holy and sacred than clinic escorting on a Shabbat, Saturday morning, or protesting on the eve of Yom Kippur at the Supreme Court. I’m showing up as a Jew, showing that Jews are feminists. Getting to affirm that publicly feels really amazing
And there are things that are so hard and frustrating about being a Jew in these spaces. People use the word religion so carelessly. They denigrate religion when they mean Christian–and really when they mean fundamentalist Christian.
JOS: So many people still use the phrase “Judeo-Christian” in 2022…Really, that’s a very narrow view of Christianity as well which I also feel like we have to push back against because they’re doing the same to us.
SB: When you generalize about all religions being anti-abortion, you’re dunking on pro-choice Muslims, of which there are many. Just about every other minority religion supports abortion access, and huge swathes of Christianity support abortion access.
The Christians who don’t support abortion access are a loud minority. When you give them so much airtime by constantly affirming that Christians are against abortion, you’re allowing them to construct and control the narrative about how all religions feel about abortion. You’re playing into their hand. So when we can step back and say actually, no, I’m a religious person, I’m a person of faith, I’m Jewish, and I am absolutely pro-abortion we take a lot of that power back.
JOS: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I’ve loved to see how prominent Catholics for Choice has become, although they’ve done great work for a long time. It’s a tricky thing though because folks on the pro-abortion side can rely on “gotcha” statistics. The people protesting outside of clinics don’t care if nine out of ten Catholics use birth control.
SB: Something else that comes to mind is that people need to talk about abortion with their family and friends That’s one reason the “camping” euphemism that went around [a meme that suggested traveling out of state to get abortions was “camping”] made me want to tear my hair out.
There was so much wrong with it on so many levels, but the way that people can actually get involved is to become practical support volunteers. Drive patients.
Apiaryps.org is a list of all of the practical support collectives across the country, and you sign up to become a volunteer and wait patiently for them to get back to you when their volunteer lists open up, and they can background check you and interview you and then onboard you.
You have to be patient. This moment is about the people who no longer have access to the health care that they need and want.
So honestly, donating money is the most impactful thing that ordinary people can do to make a difference in people’s lives.
JOS: I work at an abortion fund and am frustrated with the way that some folks have behaved. I know that they want to do the right thing and I hope that this doesn’t come off as scolding or shaming or ungrateful but we have a limit on how many volunteers we can take and it’s a long process.
So many folks turned themselves away once we told them it would take a few months and that we don’t provide housing for abortion seekers. It’s a protagonist mindset. They want to be the person housing the individual. We ask them to think about how they would feel if they were getting a personal medical procedure, going into the home of someone they didn’t know? And perhaps it’s not only that abortion is stigmatized at best, but perhaps this procedure is illegal in their home state and they’re scared.
We’ve maintained that you don’t have to be a 501-C 3 registered nonprofit to fund abortion. If you’re able to Venmo your friend- Great! You funded abortion! But if you do want to operate as a formal collective, you have to keep your patients and your callers at the center.
SB: It’s a savior complex that I feel strongly is rooted in white supremacy, especially when it comes from mostly retired white women, which is not to say that there aren’t retired white women who are kicking ass—because there are. But it’s really frustrating when the conversation is about how can I make a difference versus what is best for abortion seekers.
“Underground Railroad” language deliberately co-opts language by and for Black people. The “Auntie Network” already exists, it’s the National Network of Abortion Funds. There are systems that have been in place formally and informally for decades, such as the Jane Collective. This mutual aid has been around for a long time.
JOS: My fund had folks who were donating after Dobbs who would write a note with their donation saying, ”make sure you tell this person that insert name they’re paid for their procedure.” We don’t do that for a million reasons…
Even if that were possible, what these donors are imagining in their head is a grateful poor woman, and that they get to be a named hero. That’s where you have a chance to try and unpack some of the internalized stigmas that we have with abortion, and challenge people’s picture of an abortion seeker. I tell this to reporters all the time, the majority of people who are having procedures are already parents.
We also tell reporters, please stop using images of like, nine months-pregnant bellies or 25-week ultrasounds if you’re talking about a six-week abortion ban.
Part II of this discussion coming tomorrow.