I’ve been a feminist since at least junior high, when the injustice of being born female in my family became apparent. I had been independently studying Hebrew through a correspondence course and had a great interest in my Judaism but was denied a bat mitzvah. Granted, we were not members of a synagogue, but 5 years later, when it was time for my brother “to come of age,” my parents clamored to affiliate, to get him the proper education, and to insure him the ritual of a bar mitzvah. More painful was that I was a straight-A student with ambitions to go to college, having been raised in an upper-middle class community where that was de rigeur for both boys and girls. However, my parents, concerned about money, wanted to send me to secretarial school for my MRS degree and save their money to send my brother to college since he would presumably “have to support a family.” Fortunately, I won that battle.
My work over the years for reproductive justice has been my way of helping to give women choices other than the MRS and MOM degrees.
It is therefore in my DNA to root for strong women characters as I did while watching Wonder Woman on the screen or Nora on the stage in a wonderful new play called A Doll’s House, Part 2, a midrash on Ibsen’s original, in which Nora returns home 15 years after first leaving to demand further justice from her husband. Two weeks ago I had the privilege to hear the wonderful novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deliver the commencement speech at Williams College. Her little essay “We Should All Be Feminists” (offered here as a TED talk) reminds us that a feminist is “a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
So I have been appalled, disgusted, outraged, pained, and rendered near speechless by the rhetoric coming out of Washington about healthcare and the likely defunding of Planned Parenthood. That iconic photograph of an all-man Senatorial committee arbitrating women’s reproductive choices and women’s autonomous healthcare decision-making should enrage us all. If women are forced (out of economic or political necessity) into carrying pregnancies to term that they may not want, then they are decidedly not — nor can they be — equal socially, politically, or economically.
Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale was considered a dystopian fantasy when it was published in 1985. Now it appears downright prescient — about a totalitarian theocracy that has overthrown the U.S. government, subjugating women and women’s reproduction. Last Tuesday I went to Albany, my state capital, to lobby on behalf of the Reproductive Health Act. (Unfortunately, NYS has an antiquated abortion law that, should Roe v. Wade fall, would criminalize abortion and leave New Yorkers in a very precarious position.) This is the fourth time I have lobbied in Albany on this bill since January, but this time, I was supposed to go dressed as a handmaid! This is an action that is taking place all over the country on behalf of women’s reproductive health law, as depicted in this chilling clip from Kansas City, MO. Ultimately, we did not dress as handmaids, but in hospital gowns, sending the message that abortion is healthcare, not a crime. Instead, the actions as handmaids will take place tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday in Albany, during the last three days of the legislative session. If you want to go, sign up here. It should be truly amazing and powerful.
While in Albany on Tuesday, I finally had the opportunity to sit down with my state senator to talk about this bill, a meeting I’d been requesting since January. Though he himself is pro-choice, the mess that is Albany politics means that the requisite votes aren’t there yet to pass this bill. Senator Klein helped me discern next steps in the fight, which means BEING SURE TO VOTE MORE PRO-CHOICE DEMOCRATS TO THE NEW YORK STATE SENATE, and VOTING OUT THE DEMOCRATS WHO ARE NOT PRO-CHOICE. (New Yorkers who care about this, let me know, so I can keep you apprised of the actions we need to take.) I brought him a letter signed by about 20 other clergy members in my district (including one Orthodox rabbi, I’m happy to report) which read in part:
We, the undersigned, are all members of the clergy who live and/or work in your district. Our experiences as faith leaders and pastoral counselors demonstrate that a woman, in consultation with her family, faith, and doctor, should be empowered to make an informed decision about her health care. Our respective faith teachings (and many of our nationally endorsed denominational statements) call for access to sex education, contraception, and safe and legal abortion care. We do not believe that religious leaders and politicians who are opposed to safe and legal abortion should impose their religious beliefs on people who follow other faith teachings.
I also gave him a copy of the new book Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker to share with his anti-choice colleagues. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of justice, Dr. Parker (an African-American OB-GYN, formerly anti-choice, and now the last abortion provider in Mississippi), has come to understand that providing abortions is an expression of Christian compassion and writes about the moral fallacies of the anti-choice movement. I also dropped a copy of the book off at the office of a Republican senator who I was told would potentially vote for the bill should it come to the floor. I’m hoping it might sway her in the affirmative, though it is truly unlikely that the Republican Senate leader, John Flanagan, will bring the bill to the floor before the legislative session ends in Albany this Wednesday. Nonetheless, if you are a New Yorker, Senator Flanagan should hear from you that you want him to bring this bill to the floor! Go to this website of Rally and Rise, then click “Join our Call Campaign,” for his phone number and talking points.
You should also be aware of the actions of your local Planned Parenthood (Dr. Parker will be the guest speaker at the October gala for the Hudson-Peconic PP region which includes Westchester), the national Planned Parenthood action team the NYCLU, and the National Institute for Reproductive Health (which is the name of the NARAL affiliate in NYS). They are all working hard (and collaborating) on helping to pass the Reproductive Health Act in New York State. I’ve additionally had the good fortune to learn of Choice Matters, The Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion, and if you are in Westchester, bring Catherine and/or someone from the Hudson-Peconic PP to speak to your synagogue or women’s group! Folks from each of the afore-mentioned organizations were instrumental in helping me plan for my meeting with my senator, for which I am grateful.
On Wednesday, I am bringing my 15-year-old niece for a tour of the White Plains Planned Parenthood Clinic where she will help me decide how to direct my donation in her honor, per my November blog post Lamentation for America.
In the meantime, on the national front, the vote to repeal the ACA and to defund Planned Parenthood will likely come down on Wednesday. It is a day to “Pink Out” to make your voice heard loud and clear. Please follow the link and do one or more of the following actions on Wednesday:
- go to a Pink Out event in support of Planned Parenthood
- flood social media with messages about standing with Planned Parenthood
- pink out your house lights with pink tissue paper, holiday lights, etc.
- call your senators AGAIN and AGAIN
- tag your senators on social media (all the info is available at the Pink Out link above)
And if you are a New Yorker, call Senator Flanagan before Wednesday, as well!
Your daughters, granddaughters, nieces — as well as your sons, grandsons and nephews, and all other children in your life — will thank you.
My family lore is that my grandmother personally thanked Margaret Sanger in the 1920’s — almost 100 years ago — for her ability to access birth control, aware that had she had to bear more than her four children, she could not have afforded to feed them all. Now in 2017, we are close to denying millions of women access to affordable contraceptive and reproductive health care. This is absolutely unacceptable. ACT!