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Loving the Stranger is Just the Beginning

By Faith Fried, Legislative Associate

Judaism teaches us to love the stranger, for once we were strangers in the land of Egypt. I’ve drawn from this teaching over the past year, as refugee resettlement became highly controversial. However, recent advocacy efforts this past summer reminded me that the reasons to support refugees go beyond the biblical.

On August 28, 2016, NCJW, as a part of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, co-sponsored the DC Rally for Refugees, an event that took place on the National Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument. I tabled in the resource tent for the first two hours, and then was free to experience the rally. As I found a spot in the shade, musicians, poets, advocates, speakers, and dancers took the stage to express their support for refugees. Some were refugees, others were the sons and daughters of those who had fled to the United States seeking better lives, and others simply supported the cause. I was moved by Lubana Al Quntar, the first Syrian opera singer and refugee, who treated us to a Metropolitan Opera caliber performance for free. I clapped and cheered as Sham Hasan, a refugee from Iraq who worked for the US Army as an interpreter, shared his story coming to the US in 2014. And I couldn’t help but tap my feet to the catchy Running (Refugee Song), featuring Gregory Porter, Common, Keyon Harrold and Andrea Pizziconi.

Reflecting on the rally, I realized that welcoming the stranger might be the first reason why we, progressive Jews, should welcome refugees to our country. But it is not the last. The writers, poets, dancers, and singers who performed were examples of how my own life is enriched — how the fabric of our nation is enriched — when we open our arms to refugees from around the world.

Watch the full DC Rally for Refugees here.

Lift Hyde, Because Every Human Being is Made in the Image of God

By Jenna Shaw

As a child of a gynecologist, I was raised to reject the stigma surrounding women’s health and reproductive rights. Words surrounding these issues were not taboo — dinner conversations frequently covered topics ranging from the anatomy of the female body, to the newest methods of contraception, to Judaism’s views on abortion and sex. I grew up with an awareness of the complexities of women’s health and the dire need for access to coverage. But I also soon realized that the conversations to which I had grown accustomed were a rarity.

Medically accurate information and non-judgmental discussion of women’s health and reproductive rights are often silenced and stigmatized. Access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare is limited based on socioeconomic status. And while everyone has the right to make their own decision about their body, life, and future, this is often not the reality.

One way our country limits access to reproductive healthcare is the federal Hyde Amendment, which denies access to abortion coverage for women enrolled in Medicaid and most other federal health plans and programs. Hyde is most harmful to people already struggling to make ends meet, who are disproportionately people of color, young people, immigrants, and transgender and gender nonconforming people. September 30, 2016 marked its 40th anniversary.

As I think through the horrific legacy left by Hyde, I can’t help but think back to one of the many lessons I learned from my dad. He would constantly reiterate the importance of never turning anyone away from care. I feel a call to action rooted in my commitment to following in my dad’s footsteps.

I am also called to action by my commitment to living out the values of Torah. The Torah portion we read on the 40th anniversary of Hyde was Ki Tavo (When You Enter). The Israelites were about to enter the land of Israel when Moses, who was not joining them, provided a list of commandments they were to obey in their new home. One such law was to regularly give their surplus produce to “the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so they may eat to satiety in your cities.” (26:11-12)

The Israelites were strangers in the land, and yet they were still commanded to ensure that the marginalized amongst them had everything they needed to survive and thrive. This was not simply about the produce; it was about solidarity and connection.  As is constantly mentioned in the Torah, no person is beneath another, as all human beings are made in the image of God.

In 21st century America, connection is about opening a conversation and providing others with the power of knowledge like my father gave to me when I was younger.  It is about access and humility and the understanding that every person deserves equitable opportunities and resources. The movement to lift the Hyde Amendment and all bans that deny coverage for abortion to low-income women is opening up a conversation that has been silenced for too long, and will ultimately provide access to healthcare to thousands who have been denied.

As a Legislative Intern at NCJW I’ve been honored to watch the opening of such conversation. I have seen as 36 faith based groups have called on Congress to pass the EACH Woman Act, a bill that would end bans that deny abortion coverage to individuals based on their income or insurance. I have participated in a flash mob in front of the White House to raise awareness. I have read through names of petitioners from every state in the union calling on Congress to lift Hyde, and witnessed as college students have raised their voices to educate their peers. People of all ages are coming together to open this conversation and ensure access for every person to the health care and information they deserve.


Jenna Shaw, originally from Chicago Illinois, is a senior at American University double majoring in Economics and Judaic Studies. Her passions lie within the intersections of gender, justice, and religious law and she hopes to pursue a career in the Rabbinate after graduation.  She is the current Legislative Intern for NCJW.

Pronouns: She/her/hers

This Is What an Abortion Access Supporter Looks Like

By Kate Friedman, former NCJW Legislative Intern

Last month’s All Access Concert, held at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio and hosted by a number of grassroots advocacy organizations, was an empowering night filled with an eclectic mix of comedians, advocates, and artists. As a native Clevelander, young Jewish woman, former NCJW legislative intern, and passionate supporter of abortion access, I couldn’t miss this event. Although the main concert took place in Cleveland, there were four satellite concerts, and additional local events across the country. The concert was conceived to both celebrate our multi-generational, diverse collective power, and to unite for a common goal: expanding abortion access for all.

As I looked around the concourse outside the arena, I could feel the growing sense of excitement and knew this concert would be something special. People of every race, age, and gender identity raced from table to table, collecting buttons from SisterSong and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; laptop stickers from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Advocates for Youth; and t-shirts emblazoned with “Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights!” from the Center for Reproductive Rights. The NCJW table was surrounded by concert-goers taking pictures in front of the green and blue logo. One woman held a sign reading “I’m a Jewish woman & I call on Congress to support abortion access with the EACH Woman Act!” and another held up a “People of Faith Support Abortion Access” poster.

The concert itself was an emotional and beautiful show of strength. Patient advocates wrote a poem declaring: “We are the experts of our own bodies.” Comedian Leslie Jones hilariously talked about her teenage years and her support of Planned Parenthood and (rightly) noted that “if men could have babies we wouldn’t even be here right now.” Former Nevada State Assembly Member Lucy Flores spoke of her tough childhood and stressed that she does not regret her decision to have an abortion. And reproductive justice advocate Renee Bracey Sherman told the audience that she refused to “wear the veil of stigma.” Singers Natalia LaFourcade, Teyana Taylor, and Sia gave inspired performances to close out the night.

I looked around the arena throughout the evening and was moved to see people of all different ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, races, and abilities come together for a common goal: expand abortion access for all. Yes, the Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt decision— issued this past summer by the U.S. Supreme Court and struck down anti-abortion laws in Texas—was a huge gain in the fight for abortion access, but we still have a ways to go. Woman of color, low-income women, and LGBTQ folks still face a number of barriers to obtaining the reproductive health care they need. And just recently, a ballot issue was proposed in Ohio that would not only make abortion illegal with no exceptions, but classify it as aggravated murder punishable by 15 years to life in prison.

But on that night in Cleveland, we permitted ourselves to celebrate too: thousands of fellow abortion access supporters and I cheered and cried and sang in response to all that we’d accomplished thus far. One particular snapshot of the night will always stay with me: a woman and her young son, sitting in the first row just a few feet from the stage. He was transfixed as comedian and host Jessica Williams declared that “a right in theory is not a right at all.” He listened as activists affirmed that “everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion. They just might not know it yet.” And as strong woman after strong woman told the audience they were not ashamed of their abortions, and as his mother cheered and cheered, the boy took it all in. And it struck me that this is how change happens in the fight for reproductive justice: parents teaching their children that women are the owners of their own bodies, and that they are strong, empowered, and deserve our trust.


Protecting the Right to Vote in Texas

By Elaine Bernstein,
Texas State Policy Advocacy Co-Chair, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc.
Co-Vice President of Public Affairs, NCJW, Greater Dallas Section

This summer, we celebrated the 51st anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, while remembering that June marked the 3rd anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively dismantled much of this landmark bill. Without the protections of the Voting Rights Act in Texas and other states, we have seen legislation passed that discriminates against voters of color and low income voters. 

Until recently, Texas had one of the strictest voter ID bills in the country. For example, you could use a gun license as proof of identity to vote, but not a University of Texas student ID. Thankfully, this past July, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Texas voter ID law as discriminatory. This means that when Texans head to the polls in November, the law will no longer be in effect, though we will still need to show a voter registration card. Unfortunately, there are still 14 other states that will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time since the last presidential election.

In Texas we have been working with other faith based organizations and the League of Women Voters to get as many citizens as possible registered to vote. On August 30th we will deputize over eighty volunteers to run voter registration drives in Dallas County. Then from September 11th to September 25th, NCJW is sponsoring five voter registration drives. Our volunteers will also work with coalition partners on their drives through the last possible day people can register to vote.

Restrictive laws, including voter ID requirements, have no place in a democracy where every citizen is supposed to enjoy equal access to the ballot. NCJW members in Texas choose to fight back against these laws by helping people register to vote so their voices can be heard!

Throwback to When Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt Made History

Last month, the United States Supreme Court overturned two key provisions of a draconian Texas anti-abortion law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Texas’ laws, often called TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) threatened access to safe, legal care, with a disproportionately harmful impact on women of color, young women, and women struggling to make ends meet. Since June, the Whole Woman’s Health ruling has already had an impact, as courts around the country have blocked several states’ TRAP laws, declaring them unconstitutional. NCJW was at the US Supreme Court when the Whole Woman’s Health ruling came down, and Jody Rabhan, NCJW Director of Washington Operations, spoke at the rally. Watch the video of her speech here or read her remarks below. 

Good morning! My name is Jody Rabhan and I am the Director of Washington Operations at the National Council of Jewish Women. I am a Jewish woman, and a mom, and — like the thousands of NCJW members and supporters nationwide — I believe in protecting abortion access!

Let me hear you if you are a person of faith who also supports abortion access! There are so many religious folks like me — whether clergy or lay leaders or “everyday” people of faith — who believe in supporting access to abortion. And we believe in this access because of our faith —not in spite of it.

We believe in the moral obligation to support women’s health and safety. We know that means ensuring her access to care — not allowing sham laws that close clinics. We believe in affirming the equal worth and dignity of all people — which is why we know we must stop sham laws that deepen disparities in access to care. We believe in health equity and justice — and in stopping sham laws that fall hardest on people struggling to make ends meet, women of color, immigrant women, and young people. We believe in respect for diverse views about the very personal issue of abortion. And in fact, it is for that very reason that people of faith believe in supporting every woman’s ability — her basic constitutional right — to make her own moral decisions about abortion. And, we believe and cherish a bedrock principle of our democracy — religious liberty. Part of what religious liberty means is the right to make personal decisions guided by our own faith and values.

Whether or not you’re a person of faith, let me hear you if you believe that we ALL must be allowed to make our own faith-informed decisions about our bodies, our health, our families, and our futures! This basic right must not be contingent on where we live, our race, income, immigration status, or any other factor.

My friends, millions of people of faith like me stand up for these basic rights every day. We are speaking out to ensure every person has access to safe, legal abortion, whether she lives in Texas, or Washington, DC, or any other community! And no matter what happens in this case, people of faith will not stop speaking out for abortion access. We will not stop standing up for every person’s access to care, until everyone can make reproductive health decisions without fear, shame or other barriers to access; and until our laws live up to our values of respect, dignity, compassion, and justice for all!

Lobby Day Success!

By Julia Alford, NCJW Legislative Intern

As a young Jewish woman, I have always been taught the importance of taking a stance against injustice and speaking up for those who could not. Those values guided me towards public policy and my internship at NCJW this summer. My fellow interns and I were tasked with putting this value into practice by creating our own lobby day to visit our Congressional lawmakers on an issue we cared about. After the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, we decided to put our efforts towards gun violence prevention.

As we began to research this broad issue, it became clear that gun safety was also critical to domestic violence prevention. We learned that there were gaps in current federal gun laws that place women at particular at risk of danger; federal loopholes currently allow former and current dating partners convicted of domestic violence and stalking to still legally buy and own guns. Horribly, most women who are abused by their intimate partner are between 18 to 24 years old. As a 20 year-old woman college student, this really hit home for me. We decided to speak out for Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA)’s Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (HR 2216), urging our members of Congress to cosponsor the bill.

Our second visit was with my representative, Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY). Congressman Tonko has always been a strong supporter of gun violence prevention. Most recently, he participated in the House sit-in, where lawmakers held the floor of the US House of Representatives to urge federal action on gun safety. But he still had not signed on to HR 2216. Coming into this meeting, I knew I wanted to stress the importance of protecting domestic violence survivors and how that relates to me and so many other young women. The Congressman represents a large number of colleges and universities in his district including my own school, the University at Albany, among many others. So I made my case, being sure to talk about the large number of college-age women and men in our district who are at risk of domestic violence.

I was surprised that the legislative correspondent really heard what I had to say. Instead of a scripted meeting, it flowed as a conversation and we left the meeting in agreement. Later that day, we learned that Congressman Tonko signed on to the bill as a cosponsor! This outcome showed me that, while lobbying visits are never predictable, with the right tools, you can have a successful visit. Looking back at our day on Capitol Hill, I realize how prepared I was! My fellow interns and I had created talking points on the issue, folders with information on the bill, and an agenda to guide our conversation in the right direction. Here are some tips I found useful during my lobby visit:

  • Assign roles for each step of the way as you prepare for a meeting! Whether it’s someone to create a meeting request email or put together a folder to leave behind, it’s important to have roles for accountability.
  • Have talking points that include three to four main points of a bill or issue.
  • Find your “ask!” An ask (or your end goal) during a lobby visit is usually for the member to be a cosponsor or vote in favor or against a bill.
  • Create an order for speaking roles during your meeting! Have someone open the conversation, another person talk about the issue, and then have someone to wrap up.
  • Share a personal and relatable story that helps convey your message.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have the answer to a question. You can always follow up in an email.
  • Leave a folder with materials on the issue, information about your organization, and your contact information.
  • Thank the member or staff member during the meeting and in a thank you note.
  • Debrief. It’s good to talk about what just happened, what went well and how you can improve for your next visit.

With these tools, you too can have a successful lobby visit! Even if your “ask” doesn’t happen, you are still speaking up and taking a stance on something you believe in. That is what really counts.


The Problem with Eight

by Kate Friedman, NCJW Legislative Intern

“The judgement is confirmed by an equally divided court” Chief Justice John Roberts intoned as gasps and whispers filled the air around me. The eight justices left the Bench rather quickly as the audience, made up of well-dressed lawyers, excited law students, and summer tourists, was led out of the courtroom. As I left and walked down the majestic US Supreme Court steps, I saw devastated parents and children protesting this non-decision that harms so many families.

On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court split 4-4 in United States v. Texas, the case against the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs that would have helped protect eligible immigrant children and parents from deportation. Due to the court’s tie in this case, the lower judgement was upheld, maintaining the Fifth Circuit Court’s injunction against DACA/DAPA and putting the lives of an estimated 4.3 million people in flux. Such 4-4 ties, without a full bench of nine justices, leave no nationally binding precedent, fail to answer important questions of standing, create a patchwork of laws across the country and, in order to avoid ties on controversial topics, prompt the court to review fewer major cases — delaying justice for millions.

This 4-4 tie was the latest in a saga that began with the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Scarcely an hour after his death was announced, Senate leadership declared that they would not hold a hearing or vote on any replacement justice until after a new president was elected. A month later, when President Obama nominated DC Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland — a highly respected and eminently qualified jurist— Senate leadership doubled down on their refusal. As of this posting, Judge Garland has been waiting more than 133 days for a confirmation hearing and a vote, the longest period a Supreme Court nominee has waited from nomination to confirmation.

Faith communities are an important voice in this fight. A just society necessitates a fully functioning judiciary, which requires nine justices to interpret laws. The continued Senate obstruction has delayed justice for millions of people on issues of healthcare, religious liberty, and immigration. Our Jewish faith teaches us tzedek tzedek tirdof — to pursue justice. We have an obligation to speak out for a judicial system capable of carrying out its duties, a most basic goal the Supreme Court is only able to meet when it has a full complement of justices.

NCJW co-coordinated an Interfaith Supreme Court Week of Action July 11-15, with the Hindu American Foundation, National Council of Churches, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Anti-Defamation League, and the African American Ministers Leadership Council. During this Week of Action, faith communities across the country spoke out on social media and called in to Senate offices urging a hearing and a vote on the nominee. More than 40 local, state, and national organizations also signed on to a Moral Message, an interfaith statement affirming our shared belief that the Senate’s continued delay undermines our nation’s commitment to the pursuit of justice and democracy, which was delivered to Senate Leadership offices.

I had the opportunity to sit in on one such meeting with Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s chief counsel for nominations. Sen. Grassley has led the effort to obstruct the judicial nominations process. Though our meeting probably didn’t sway the senator’s staffer, it’s critical that people of faith continue to urge the Senate to do their job. The Senate will return from summer recess in September, leaving only a few weeks for lawmakers to do the right thing before the next Supreme Court term opens in October. Between now and then, it’s up to us to continue to take action on behalf of the millions of women, families, and children seeking justice.

What's Title IX Got To Do With Me?

By Julia Alford, NCJW Legislative Intern

June 23rd marked the 44th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Title IX is often associated with athletics as the law mandates that girls and boys have equal opportunities to play sports. But Title IX is more than just sports, it helps to advance and protect both women and girls in 10 keys areas: access to higher education, athletics, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and technology. 

Most of us never think about Title IX in our daily lives, but I was reminded of this landmark law several weeks ago when Buzzfeed released a letter from a Stanford rape survivor. In the powerful letter, the woman recalls what she remembers from the night and next morning, her internalized pain, and the failure of the justice system. Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, was found guilty of three felony accounts by twelve jurors. However, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail, and he will be released three months early due to good behavior. Turner will walk freely after three years of probation. Though Brock Turner will spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender, the woman he raped will spend the rest of her life overcoming this tragedy. 

It is unclear if the woman who wrote the letter is a Stanford student or not but, what is clear is that she is not alone. One out of four college women will be sexually assaulted during their time in higher education. Under Title IX, colleges and universities are required to address sexual assault and sexual violence. Sexual assault has become an important topic on campuses in the United States and students are increasingly holding their administrations accountable to Title IX standards, including at UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia University, and the University of Virginia. In 2014, the Obama administration took steps to combat this issue under the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and later created the It’s On Us campaign, of which I’m proud that NCJW is a partner. President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to protecting students from sexual assault on campus. But the commitment cannot stop there.

In a few short weeks, millions of college students (including myself) will be going back to campus. A new class of freshmen will arrive and the statistic may likely still be the same: one out of four. This is unacceptable. University administration and law enforcement must comply with Title IX and simultaneously raise awareness about this issue.

States, too, can play a role. In New York State where I attend college, the “Enough is Enough” law was passed in 2015 to create an “uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy, and expanded access to law enforcement [on college campuses].” But New York is only one out of four states with laws like affirmative consent. It’s critical that states update their laws to protect individuals on their campuses (in addition to those living in the state).

Despite the horrors described in the Buzzfeed letter, we must not let the survivor’s cry for action be in vain. Let’s enforce Title IX, hold universities accountable, work with university and local law enforcement, and ensure states play their part. If we don’t, we run the risk of the statistic becoming one out of three.

Righting the Wrongs: Referencing the Injustices That Drive My Activism for Abortion Access

by Kristen Strezo

Many NCJW advocates have their own point of reference as to why they feel compelled to work for abortion access, whether a personal experience or one observed through the eyes of a friend or family member. My own fight for abortion access has been fueled by what I experienced trying to start a family with my husband years ago as strangers in a new land.

It was the summer of 2008 and I was pregnant—very pregnant, actually—preparing for the birth of my first child. My husband and I were newcomers to Atlanta, Georgia, having relocated just two years earlier. Everything was new to us.

So it wasn’t really a surprise when a friend from synagogue pulled me aside one evening after Shabbat services to inform me. As she knew me to be a staunch feminist, she wanted me to be prepared.

“Sometime after the birth,” she said, “somebody from the hospital will get ready to give you your child’s birth certificate. But, before they do, they will ask you if you’ve had an abortion.”

Wait. What?

She continued, “They will then tell you that if you do not answer the question, you would not receive your child’s birth certificate.”

But…why? How could they do that?

She didn’t know. But she did say the hospital administration would claim the answer would be used for “records”.

I shuddered. It wasn’t important whether or not I had an abortion. What bothered me was that Georgia legislators could drive their fanaticism so deep into the lives of women that even the sacred moment of birth was desecrated.

So, there I was: the pregnant feminist forced to play the game designed by anti-choice lawmakers, forced to answer an unnecessary and intrusive question in order to get my child’s basic, yet vital, forms.

I did not know if it was true or not, if withholding the birth certificate because of a medical nondisclosure was legally bound or hearsay. But, every pregnant woman and seasoned mother around me said it was true. It’s the law, I was told, expect it.

Today, I think about that moment — that time just before the baby came — when I’m asked why I fight for abortion access, and reproductive rights more broadly. And, today I summon those memories to fuel me to work for change.

What I saw in my years living in the South—living among some of the most oppressive laws against women in the country—pushed me to be more compassionate, more involved in my community, more tenacious in my fight to help fix a way-too-broken system.

It is also the reason I chose to attend the Act for Women Lobby Day (hosted by the Center for Reproductive Rights) last May in Washington, DC in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA 217/HR 448).

WHPA would stop many new types of state abortion restrictions, which seem to be sprouting up by the month. It would prohibit state restrictions that mandate medically unnecessary procedures or doctor’s visits, restrictions that shame women for their health care decisions, and restrictions that push abortion out of reach in other ways. And I believe in the bill’s potential. As it stands today, the bill has the support from 146 US representatives and 34 US senators.

Legislators need to know that their constituents are paying attention, and they need to see a face that stands for WHPA. I felt compelled to meet with lawmakers in DC and I am always honored to represent NCJW. NCJW fights for abortion access within the broader context of NCJW’s Reproductive Justice Initiative, drawing on a framework developed by women of color. NCJW works an as an ally to the reproductive justice movement, which is working to ensure that each person has the power to make their own decisions about their body, sexuality, and future regardless of race, income, sexual orientation, immigration status, or any other factor. I find it imperative that legislators know about the work of the reproductive justice movement, as well as NCJW and other allies, as they continue to help repair this world, l’dor vador — from generation to generation.

On the day my daughter was born, my husband and I were struck with the profound amazement many new parents feel: we were utterly exhausted, yet unable to sleep off the rush of joy our newest family member ushered in with her.

I won’t tell you how I answered the hospital administrator with the birth certificate that day. The answer is completely irrelevant.

What does matter is that our tiny little being had fallen into a world where two stupidly devoted parents waited to catch her and cradle her. She was ours to soothe with Stevie Wonder songs whispered into her tiny little ears.

Nobody has the right to destroy that effervescent feeling of love and family. I find it nothing less than sinister for Georgia’s anti-choice zealots to try to stain a moment so pure.

I know that the US Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt has invigorated the reproductive rights, health and justice movement with the joy of a watershed win. May this Yiddish proverb continue to remind us of our power: Ven ale mentshn zoln tsien af eyn zayt, volt zikh di velt ibergekert — if everyone pulled in one direction, the world would tip over.

Kristen Strezo is an award-winning writer and journalist who focuses on women’s issues, caregiving and elder care in America. She has written for magazines such as Harvard Magazine and Penn Stater Magazine, among other print and online news sources. Follow her on Twitter: @strezo_is_write


Not Worth a Gamble

By Carol Consalvo

Preface: This story was originally published as part of the Jewish Daily Forward’s series Silent No More: Forward Readers Tell Their Abortion Stories. Carol Consalvo is the NCJW Arizona State Policy Advocacy Chair. In her words: 

The decision in Roe v. Wade was such an important event in my lifetime. I grew up in the 1950’s when getting pregnant before marriage was not socially acceptable. If one did make the mistake of having unprotected sex, it could become a life or death situation. At that time, because of the legal barriers to abortion care and social stigma, abortions could be physically and psychologically disastrous for women. Roe v. Wade changed that, and since 1973, abortion has been safe and legal for many. But safe and legal abortion care is still not accessible to all women, particularly low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and young women. That has to change! I was drawn to the NCJW Arizona Chapter in the 1980s because NCJW works to make abortion accessible to all. Reproductive decision-making should be available to everyone and any deviation from that is absolutely unfair. My work with NCJW contributes to the fight to make America a fairer, more equitable place.

What should I do? What should I do? What should I do? Those four words went around in my head in the spring of 1973. I was 28 years old, wife, mother of two sons and I was pregnant. Being an only child, my dream was having a house full of kids with all the commotion that goes with raising a big family. At that time, my children were ages seven and four and I really, really wanted a daughter to begin to even out the sexes in my family dynamic.

I do not have any emotional scars and have not second-guessed myself on the decision I made 43 years ago.

However, my marriage was not “made in heaven,” as I had hoped it would be, and we constantly had financial setbacks due to my husband’s gambling habits. Gambling brings not only the lack of funds, it also brings lying, mistrust and disappointment into the marriage. I was miserable. My four-year-old son was severely asthmatic and caused us much worry and concern. That same year he had spent one week, at two different times, in an oxygen tent, and we also made countless trips to the emergency room, usually during the night. I never knew when he would have an attack, and our family life was filled with worry and interruptions. If I wasn’t worrying about the bills, I was worrying about his health.

I was two months pregnant and in no position emotionally or financially to take on another responsibility. Roe v. Wade had just been decided, and having an abortion was safe and legal. Was that an option for me and my family? After discussing this decision with my husband and my obstetrician, the doctor agreed to perform the procedure at the same hospital where only four years earlier he had delivered my son. Due to the high demand for the procedure and the hospital scheduling only four a day, I had to wait 10 days for my appointment.

Those were the hardest days of my life….I was not feeling well, my heart was breaking, but the voice in my head kept saying, “This is the best approach to the problem at hand.” Along with my voice, my mother was 100% in favor of my decision and she too kept me strong by supporting my decision. Thank you, MOM! My husband was indifferent and left the decision to me.

The day finally came, and my husband took me to the hospital, and when it was all over, I felt a wonderful feeling of relief. I have never regretted the decision. I do not have any emotional scars and have not second-guessed myself on the decision I made 43 years ago. I behaved responsibly to my family and made it possible for me to care for the children I already had without additional burdens. It took me seven additional years to have a tubal ligation, because at 28, I was not ready to make the decision to not have any more children. I wanted to leave that door open if I felt there might be a better time to add to my family; however that opportunity never presented itself.

I was a lucky woman then due to the wisdom of the Supreme Court justices at the time. And now I am a lucky women because my granddaughters still have the opportunity to make choices when it comes to their health care. This country cannot let this right to privacy become history and disappear.

Carol, now 71, was born and raised in Manhattan, New York. Her parents and grandparents were German Jewish refugees. She attended college in Rochester, New York and relocated to Arizona as a young wife and mother, where she worked in the financial services industry for 31 years. She has been married to Joe Consalvo for 17 years.

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