The first half of 2011 has been rough for reproductive rights in the United States. In the past few months alone, the Ohio legislature allowed a fetus to “testify” in support of an anti-choice bill, Minnesota and Indiana have joined Nebraska in outlawing abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, South Dakota politicians have decreed that women must receive anti-choice counseling before they can obtain abortion care, and Texas has not only required ultrasounds before all abortions, but mandated that doctors must describe the image to the woman, regardless of whether or not she wants to see it.
This spring also saw a vigorous push to defund Planned Parenthood. Although the measure failed on the federal level, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels has cut the organization’s funding in his state, even though its clinics provide health care, cancer screening, contraception, and other non-abortion services to underserved and low-income communities. As all eyes turn towards next year’s U.S. election, it seems likely that abortion will continue to hold its place as a perennial hot-button social issue.
Today, according to Medical Students for Choice, there are no providers to perform abortions in 87% of all counties in the U.S. And things may get worse, since the House of Representatives in May approved an amendment to the healthcare bill that would ban federal funds from being used to provide training for abortion procedures. As it is, again according to Medical Students for Choice, 97% of medical residents specializing in family planning, and 36 percent of OB/GYN residents, have not received training in firsttrimester abortion procedures.
Abortion occupies a unique space in the public consciousness; to talk about abortion is, often, to also talk about gender, sexuality, class, race, and religion. Within Judaism, official opinions about abortion are varied, though the majority hold that abortion is acceptable — in fact, mandated — when the woman’s health is in danger from a continuation of the pregnancy.
While many Jews and non-Jews would no doubt agree with that assessment, a large and loud number of legislators and their supporters have decided that it is appropriate to publicly weigh in on such a private decision. While the political winds continue to shift, the larger challenge lies in how abortion is viewed and discussed in our society. The non-partisan Guttmacher Institute estimates that one-third of American women under age 45 will have an abortion, yet the controversy, danger, and misinformation surrounding this common medical procedure show no sign of fading away. Pro-choice legislators and activists such as Gloria Feldt, now routinely use the term “abortion care” rather than “abortion rights” in order to reinforce the idea that preventing unwanted pregnancies must be part of healthcare policy.
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW.org) has spoken out strongly in support of covering contraceptive services under the U.S. healthcare reform plan; both the NCJW and Hillel (Hillel. org), among other Jewish organizations, have reproductive-rights petitions and other action information on their websites. And while the most visible leaders of the movement came of age in the pre- and immediate post-Roe era, the energy and enthusiasm of younger Jewish women on both the grassroots and organizational level is encouraging — and necessary. It’s often suggested that American women now, mistakenly, take their rights to a safe and legal abortion for granted, not always realizing that even treatment for infertility concerns may be among those rights curtailed if current legislative trends in the U.S. continue.