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.