Helping Poor Women Afford Abortions

When it comes to abortion rights. Jewish women have decided to put their money where their mouths are. A new fund, organized by Jewish women in South Florida, will help pay for abortions for women who otherwise can’t afford the procedure.

The Women’s Emergency Network is the brainchild of Jeri B. Cohen, a lawyer from North Miami Beach. Cohen decided to start the fund after realizing that much of the current debate over abortion rights has not really addressed the needs of poor women with unwanted pregnancies.

Since 1977, the U.S. Congress has prohibited the use of federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions unless the life of the mother is in imminent danger. And while fourteen other states and the District of Columbia have opted to use state funds to pay for the procedure, Florida has not.

“The whole thing is unconscionable’,’ Cohen says. “There’s a constitutional right, but poor women can’t exercise it!”

The network, which includes physicians, abortion providers. politicians, social workers and a rabbi, hopes to raise $50,000 this year to help fund abortions for several hundred needy women. Next year, the fund aims to double its size.

The North Dade chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, of which Cohen is a member, has also pledged its support for the network. As one of its major projects this year, the 250-member chapter will raise funds and keep statistics for the new program.

Since its establishment earlier this year, the network has helped pay for abortions for nearly twenty poor women. One of the first grant recipients was a seventeen-year-old Nicaraguan woman who became pregnant as a result of being raped. Another woman helped by the network was a pregnant eighteen-year-old who already had given birth to two children who were in foster care.

“I view my fund, optimistically, as a stopgap’,’ Cohen says. “We’re doing what the government should be doing.”

Social service agencies and health care providers are informing poor women about the network. The fund gives the pregnant woman a grant, but she is also expected to contribute a small amount of her own money for the abortion. She is also required to sign a written pledge that she will return to the clinic for family planning services and follow-up care.

Cohen says the network is modeled after a fifteen-year-old fund administered by another Jewish woman, Harriette Glasner of North Palm Beach. The 84-year-old Glasner, who also founded a Planned Parenthood chapter in Palm Beach County, started her fund with the proceeds of the sale of her diamond bracelet. Glasner says her $25,000 annual fund has provided grants to cover the full cost of an abortion for thousands of women over the years.

The two Florida funds aren’t the only programs to work on behalf of poor women with unwanted pregnancies. According to the National Abortion Rights Action League, women have organized similar funds in eighteen other states and the District of Columbia.

For more information about the Network, or to make a contribution, write: The Women’s Emergency Network, Inc., PO Box 1852, Hallandale, FL 33008. Contributions to Glasner’s fund, Emergency Medical Assistance, Inc., should be sent to PO Box 2065, West Palm Beach, FL 33402.