The thinking among pro-choice Jewish activists in Washington, D.C., gathering after the news broke that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, was that “abortion” is not a dirty word.
Sue Strait, co-president of the Milwaukee section of the National Council of Jewish Women, planned to bring that lesson and others home after attending a Jewish-themed rally and conference there.
Speakers included Midwestern-raised Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify, an organization devoted to the positive representation of people who have abortions. She made a point of using the word “abortion” at the rally, and having people repeat it, Strait said.
The takeaway, said Strait, is that “this is not a dirty word, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it. If you need an abortion, this is a person’s personal decision. And it’s nobody else’s decision. But yours. And Renee Bracey Sherman was just an incredible speaker, and an incredible inspiration for feeling positive about this.”
The National Council of Jewish women organized The Washington Institute, a conference focused on honing skills for community service and advocacy on May 15-17, 2022. It ended with the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice on May 17, organized by NCJW but attracting a wider swath of sponsoring organizations and activists. Cosponsors for the rally included Hadassah and the Union for Reform Judaism. Strait attended all of the above.
“It was just so inspiring and so energizing. Even if we were all feeling very unhappy about the way that the Supreme Court seems to be leaning, and the way that our legislature is going, it was the right place to be to kick off a national effort,” said Strait, referring to the rally on the National Mall. She said there were around 2,000 people or more in attendance.
“There had to been 20 or 30 different synagogues that brought busloads of people and banners that said, we are here to demand abortion justice, and to support and then listen to the speakers that were at the rally. They came loaded for bear.”
Strait was the only Milwaukee Section NCJW representative, in part because many members have young families or children graduating and could not get away, she said. Strait is co-president with Robyn Eiseman.
Before the rally, at the conference, Strait found a lot of meaning in discussion of advocacy. A presentation from the advocacy group, MomsRising, detailed a layered cake approach to advocacy. The idea was that there are different ways to advocate, Strait said. She noted that efforts can include “personal conversations with people, personal conversations with our legislators, and then social media incorporation into everything we’re doing and having that as a jumping off point, to get out the vote.”
Politico reported on May 2, 2022, that the U.S. Supreme Court voted to strike down the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in America as a Constitutional right in 1973. The revelation was attributed to an initial draft majority opinion circulated privately among justices and revealed by the news site. The report has galvanized pro-choice advocates.
“Personally, I see this as going backwards,” said Strait, a Bayside resident. “And I see it as treating women poorly … So personally, I’m taking this fight to the streets. And that’s exactly why after all this time I took on the leadership of the section. I got angry enough.”
Not all Jews agree
There are those in Jewish life who may not see eye-to-eye with strongly pro-choice advocates. For example, the Orthodox Union, representing many modern Orthodox congregations, issued a May 3, 2022, statement that walked a middle ground.
“The Orthodox Union is unable to either mourn or celebrate the news reports of the U.S. Supreme Court’s likely overturning of Roe v Wade,” said the central office for the Jewish denomination in a statement.
The statement cited Jewish law prioritizing life, including the “potential life” of an unborn fetus, with an even greater emphasis on the life of a pregnant mother. “We cannot support absolute bans on abortion — at any time point in a pregnancy — that would not allow access to abortion in lifesaving situations,” read the statement. “Similarly, we cannot support legislation that permits ‘abortion on demand’ — at any time point in a pregnancy — and does not confine abortion to situations in which medical (including mental health) professionals affirm that carrying the pregnancy to term poses real risk to the life of the mother.”
“The extreme polarization around and politicization of the abortion issue does not bode well for a much-needed nuanced result. Human life — the value of everyone created in the Divine Image — is far too important to be treated as a political football.”