As a new 6–3 Supreme Court with Amy Coney Barrett begins hearing cases
about reproductive rights in 2021, and Roe stands on ever-shakier footing, here is
a look back at highlights from decades of Lilith reporting on abortion: much of it
as urgent and relevant as if it were published today.
The battle against abortion is only the first step in an attempt by the New Right to reshape the American political system in its authoritarian image… anti-civil rights for minorities and homosexuals, anti-labor and anti-sex education.
A California State Senator has been stripped of a committee chairmanship and fired from a state commission on women after describing abortion supporters as “bulldykes,” “lesbians”
and “murderous marauders” who are hard, Jewish and “arguably” female.
1989 If the forces seeking to restrict abortion win out, Jews who follow Jewish law on matters of abortion which says that a mother’s well-being takes precedence over that of the fetus, and
never equated abortion with murder will have that freedom of religion abrogated.
I often claim each woman who gets safely into the clinic for an abortion—18 to 22
each Saturday morning—as a small victory, a vindication for having to interrupt my Shabbat by waking at 5:30 a.m. to drive to the distant reaches of Northeast Philadelphia and stand in a
parking lot, at least six months out of the year in darkness. Escorting is the most concrete form of activism that I know.
The abortion issue has become—as, in another way the “JAP” issue was—a pernicious amalgam of anti-Semitism and misogyny.
Clearly whoever wrote the “One nation handles the problem of abortion in an
intelligent way” piece was either doing shoddy journalism or misguidedly glorifying Israel—or both. The health care system’s view of patient rights is lousy, women’s rights here are lousy, and the abortion issue is no exception.
While many women celebrated January 22nd, 1993, as the twentieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision protecting a woman’s right to abortion, others, in a horrifying and dangerous manipulation, labeled the date as the beginning of the “American Holocaust.”
While Catholic tradition focuses on the soul of the fetus, Jewish law focuses on
the life of the mother.
2003 One of the first acts of George W. Bush as President was to bar health organizations abroad that receive U.S. aid from offering any abortion services.
2003 Many women who are now in their 20s and 30s have little historical and no visceral
knowledge of the crises an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy often precipitated in the pre-Roe v. Wade decades… With Washington now trying to pack the courts with anti-choice judges, and with many states restricting access to abortion, we had better be vigilant.
The primary obstacle for Israeli women is the “abortion panel,” a three-person committee consisting of doctors and social workers—including at least one woman—that must approve all abortions. Irit Rosenblum, an advocate for reproductive freedom, says “It’s chauvinistic…a relic from the dark ages.”
The president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, told a House
committee, “We object to the use of drugs and procedures used to take the lives of unborn children,” referring not to abortion, but to contraception!
Legal abortion split the world open to the realities of women’s lives, laid bare in my counseling rooms. They had made the choice to abort, but they still couldn’t believe it was safe and legal. “I won’t be butchered?” they asked. “I won’t die?” They were sure they’d be punished. “Can I really do this thing and go on with my life?” I saw so much vulnerability: legs
spread wide apart; the physician crouched between white, black, thin, heavy, but always trembling, thighs: the tube sucking the fetal life from their bodies, the last thrust and pull of the catheter, then the gurgle that signaled the end of the abortion. Over and over I witnessed women’s relief that their lives had been given back to them. It was a kind of born-again experience.
“Livchor”—“to choose.” The first time I went to the abortion clinic, I couldn’t go through with it and left with my pregnancy still intact. During the six days that followed, I came to terms with
the awesome charter of my choice. Okay, this is inescapable, I told myself. I can’t pretend I’m not doing it. “Pro-choice,” “pro-life”—I was taking responsibility for my power.
The mountain of anti-choice laws grows ever higher: mandatory waiting periods; mandatory ultrasounds, some of which must be done via vaginal probe; measures that restrict medical students from learning how to perform abortions; building codes that make freestanding abortion clinics adhere to the same strict standards as hospitals. Anti-choice activism has become enviably creative.
2013 Midwifery has been part of the reproductive justice movement, in which Jewish women have been consistently active. Fully one-third of the students in my midwifery class are Jewish. We think in these terms: How do we improve women’s status, women’s lives?
Women who were denied an abortion were associated with mental health difficulties, specifically anxiety and depression. Women who were able to access the abortion they wanted had more positive outcomes so much for the accusation that women regret their abortions.
Despite the evidence that Jews support pro-choice candidates for public office, do we think “good” Jews don’t have abortions?
2018 Extra-legal abortions will look different from what they did in the 1970s. A “medication abortion,” or a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, allows for a safe FDA and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists-approved and more private way to terminate a pregnancy. Misoprostol can also be used on its own, inducing bleeding
and symptoms similar to a miscarriage.
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.
What commentator Rachel Maddow describes as the Trump administration’s “performative cruelty,” 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.
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… Unfortunately, afterward Jane was not fine at all: she developed sepsis and multi-organ failure…Though the team tried everything they could to resuscitate and stabilize her, she did not make it. We all cried.
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.
One of Trump’s 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.
Post-Covid, I want to imagine that abortion will be accessible in the ways I’ve always
dreamed: The option to seek care in a clinic or self-administer abortion medication wherever a person feels comfortable. The abortion will be free.