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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.

Holding the Floor for Justice

By Kate Friedman, NCJW Legislative Intern

I sat in the Eisenhower Executive Building screening room, stunned, as families who had lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting filled the room. I was invited to attend the official White House pre-screening of Newtown, a moving documentary about the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting on December 14, 2012, and its aftermath. I arrived expecting the audience to be Washington, DC-based colleagues I might recognize, and possibly some Congressional aides. Instead, the room was filled with dozens of families who had lost children, parents, and friends to the gun violence epidemic.

The documentary began, filling the darkened room with the sounds of gut-wrenching 911 recordings from that fateful December morning at Sandy Hook Elementary. The families of the children and educators killed wept and held each other. Afterwards, the Newtown families spoke about their anger that Congress had yet to pass any gun violence prevention legislation and their heartbreak over the continued loss of life. The horrific Orlando shooting, occurring just a few days before, intensified their anger and sadness.

I left frustrated with the continued Congressional inaction, only to learn that Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy was holding the Senate floor, refusing to give it up until gun safety legislation received a vote. My spirits rose as I arrived to the Senate gallery about 5 hours into Senator Murphy’s filibuster. I sat in one of the seats in the small Senate chamber and watched as senator after senator discussed substantive gun policy. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (my senator) asked Sen. Murphy “how do we go home and look people in the eye and say we failed again? …How do I go back to Cleveland and say, ‘well, we tried it again [but] we didn’t do it?” Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jeff Merkley of Oregon spoke about the Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College massacres, respectively. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand angrily asked her colleagues “where is our spine?”

Watching the filibuster, I was filled with hope. The purpose of the filibuster was to force a vote on two gun safety amendments to an appropriations bill, both supported by NCJW. One proposed banning people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns and the other, closing the gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all gun purchases, including those sold online and at gun shows which account for 40% of purchases. With upwards of 85% of the American people in favor of additional reform to reduce gun violence, it seemed like the Senate was finally becoming more in-tune with the American people.

Our Jewish faith teaches us tzedek tzedek tirdof — to pursue justice. When our senators stood for fifteen hours and when millions of people across the country raised their voices to demand common sense gun violence prevention measures, they were pursuing justice. I was inspired. Unfortunately, both amendments failed to get the 60 votes required to pass. As I watched the number of “nays” ticking up on C-SPAN, I was enormously disappointed in the Senate for failing to protect the American people from the daily gun violence across our country. It seemed unconscionable that some lawmakers would refuse to even discuss legislation that could save lives. Frustratingly, the pace of policy change is slow; a marathon, not a sprint. Looking back, the gun violence prevention movement did gain a great deal of momentum in the last few weeks. The filibuster was followed by further action for justice in the House — with lawmakers holding a sit-in urging similar legislative action. These Congressional efforts galvanized celebrities, organizations, and individuals to speak up and get involved, whether by calling their lawmakers, posting on social media, or talking to friends about the need for change.

Remembering the overwhelming grief from the families at the Newtown screening, I am impatient waiting for change to come, but hopeful for what is already being done. Change won’t happen unless we take action and mobilize others to raise our voices together.

Different Decade, Same Fight: One Woman's Journey From Clinic Employee to NCJW

Ellen Joseph of NCJW-Minneapolis spoke to NCJW Communications Associate Amanda Glickman about her years at one of Minnesota’s first abortion clinics, as well as her recent experience at NCJW-MN’s event “What’s at Stake for Women’s Health.” 

I’m relatively new to NCJW, though my mother belonged for years and years. I don’t know why exactly I didn’t get connected sooner. A good friend of mine invited me to some of the events last year, and then, I started helping out with the finance committee. And then this program came up recently, “What’s at Stake for Women’s Health,” with Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health – and it was very interesting to me because I worked at Meadowbrook Women’s Clinic, one of the first abortion clinics in Minneapolis at the time abortion became legal. Meadowbrook Womne’s Clinic still exists in a way, because Whole Women’s Health actually owns them –it’s Whole Women’s Health-Twin Cities now!

A bunch of clinic popped up at once and I would say Meadowbrook was the largest. I started in 1975, and was first hired on as a receptionist. After two weeks, I asked “What else I could do here?” I ended up running the business office, and stayed for seven years. My best women friends, all abortion counselors at the clinic, came out of that job – it was a real coming of age experience for all of us. 

What strikes me is how difficult it is now to get an abortion. Back in 1975, there were three or four abortion clinics so close to each other. Two in the same building! Another was in a suburb and another in another part of the city. There may have been more. They were staffed by physicians who were OB-GYNs who decide they were going to expand their practice and work on a rotating basis. They were so thoughtful, and had such compassion for the patients from the moment they called to the time they were released from the recovery room. Now I don’t want to say it wasn’t a big deal, because making the decision is a big deal, but you could go in and have your abortion and know that you were going to be taken care of safely. I’m 65, soon to be 66, so during my teenage years abortion wasn’t legal, but some of the women here in Minnesota now, at these NCJW events, they haven’t lived in a time where abortion hasn’t been legal. 

I think of the women that I now have continuing friendships with, and every single one of them started when the clinic opened in what I believed in ‘73 – right out of college with a social work or some other social services undergraduate degree. They were not necessarily trained as counselors. As far as I can tell, they invented abortion counseling  there was nothing else out there, they had to figure out how to counsel women who wanted to terminate their pregnancy in a way where they maintained their distance from the stories and gave them good guidance. And I will say, there were plenty of women who walked out of that clinic deciding not to have an abortions, it was always very much their own decision.

My friends always wrote really good notes from their sessions. I learned from them how to be impartial in reporting a story because when they reported stories of patients, I would read their counseling notes and you learn that you say “so and so states this or that,” with no bias attached. Some women didn’t know their own bodies and didn’t even know how they got pregnant, but you never inserted judgement. The notes stayed in each patient’s chart, and then the charts stayed in the clinic and I dealt with the charts. We were doing a fair amount of reporting to the CDC, actually, two of my good friends did nothing for two years except compile statistics and worked with local organizations to get numbers and stats for the state health department and the CDC on the demographics of the women coming through. There was nothing computerized, written charts were how we collected data. If someone came in during their first trimester, they were one color chart, and if they came in their second, another color. I can still remember the sequence. 

I also remember the script of the films we showed them, we would group women five to six at a time to go look at how their experience would unfold. First you’ll see the lab tech, then the NP for exam, then your counselor, then your counselor will walk you to the procedure room and then recovery. The film would be on an endless loop, and I memorized every word. One of my (still) best friends, a counselor, had to do a film project in school or doing some project, and she said “I’m going to make a new film for the clinic.” Her intent was to make it a personal story, and for reasons of confidentiality, she couldn’t use any of the patients. But I had just had an abortion – I was in my early to mid 20s and it was not very difficult for me to decide. And she said “Will you be in the movie? We’ll change your name, but I want your head in there, we gotta tell your story.” We would occasionally show her film at the clinic after she made it, and at the time I didn’t tell my mother I had the abortion – but when the film was done, it was so good I had to show her. Flipping the script from employee to patient was easy, and it made it easier to relate to patients. 

Our patients were often very young girls from upstate Minnesota, I don’t know how they got to Minneapolis – in the cars with their boyfriends or hitching other rides. I dealt with patients who didn’t have money and we had to make special arrangements because most people weren’t comfortable running it through insurance. We tried to make it work. It was the hardest thing about my job, seeing women have such difficulties getting the money to pay for the abortion. The physicians told us, “Don’t ever turn anyone away, we’ll make it work.” But after a while, it got really tough seeing one situation after another. But I put in my seven years, a good amount of time. What kept me at Meadowbrook so long, it was all about the management: the doctors, the employees, everyone focused in the same direction.

I’m still best friends with all of the counselors. All went on to be successful in their careers, each and every one of them continuing to be supportive of women’s health issues. One of them unfortunately passed away two years ago – she had three kids after getting married, and her oldest daughter is going to have a baby this September We all just attended her baby shower. We’ve got to pay it forward for our friend Susan. 

What I’ve learned from my short time at NCJW is the notion of reproductive justice – I’ve never thought of it as an issue of justice until now. I knew choice but not justice. I see that’s a lot of what CEO of Whole Women’s Health Amy Hagstrom Miller is trying to do in her reproductive justice work – justice is about having a clinic close enough by, about whether a woman can get to the clinic, get childcare, get support in her community and support from her partner. That to me has been a big lightbulb. Amy Hagstrom Miller is a dynamo. She’s amazing, articulate, smart – there’s got to be someone like her leading the charge.

The Trust Project MN, which Amy co-presented with – boy, those women are so cool. They are the young, outspoken women of their generation, completely rebellious like we saw ourselves being in our 20s. No-nonsense, going say what their truth is, and say it proudly without mincing any words. One of the women said “People don’t even like saying ‘abortion’ now” – and it’s true. Sure, we used to kowtow around it, say “procedure” because you never knew who your audience was. I was happy that someone pointed it out as still being a problem today.

I don’t have many young women friends, that’s the fun thing about NCJW – I sit at the table with young women and think “I remember that.” And we’re still fighting for the same cause, but we’re together.

Turning Prayers for Orlando into Action

By Madeline Budman, NCJW Legislative Intern

On the Sunday morning following the Capital Pride Parade, I slept in and woke up with glitter still on my face. Stickers and handouts I had collected while I marched with NCJW and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at the festivities were scattered around my room. My afterglow from this celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender nonconforming, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) community was cut short as soon as I turned on my phone. When I first saw the news, the Washington Post was reporting 20 dead in an Orlando gay nightclub; by the time I had gotten out of bed and made breakfast, the number had risen to 50 dead and 53 wounded, making it the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Numb with shock, I thought back to the rainbow-filled and joyous celebration that had taken place just the day before. Unable to process the horror of this shooting, I did what most people of my generation tend to do: I posted my thoughts on Facebook, concluding with the line, “Praying for the victims and their families.”

What followed was the loudest, rawest outcry against religion that I have ever seen on social media. Dozens of posts filled my newsfeed with messages such as, “Please, keep your prayers,” and “Prayers won’t do anything to stop homophobia and gun violence.” My Facebook friends were not unique in their outrage. On Monday, some members of the House of Representatives made waves when they protested a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando massacre. In an interview on Monday, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) expressed his frustration: “‘Thoughts and prayers’ are three words that cost you nothing. I’m sick of it. Show some courage.”

I understand Rep. Himes’ and others’ frustration. Words, social media posts, and moments of silence can be empty, especially when those expressing their sympathies have not previously moved on issues of gun violence and LGBTQ justice. Yet, I was surprised by this response, because I have a different understanding of prayer. As an intern at NCJW, my social justice work is guided by Judaism, and I cannot separate the two. When I say that I am praying, I mean that I am ready to take action. In the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel famously reflected, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” To me – and in my experience, to many other Jews – praying with my feet and working for tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is the only way to effectively pray. On Wednesday, I saw that leaders in the Senate began to pray effectively with their filibuster to address gun violence. Showing courage, and interrupting the regular business of the Senate, they turned thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Orlando massacre into action.  Religion and prayer can be a source of healing and comfort after yet another instance of gun violence and a hate crime against the Latino and  LGBTQ communities. Prayer becomes problematic when it is used as an excuse for complacency. Instead, we should follow the lead of the members of Congress who spoke out and stood on the Senate floor for nearly 15 hours. We cannot pray away the violence and hate in our world with mere thoughts alone; instead, our prayer must incite us to action, lead us to march in the streets, and do the holy work of advocating for justice for all.

Join me in praying through action for the victims and families of the Orlando shooting, and for all LGBTQ members of our communities. Here are some ways to take action:

  • Tell your lawmakers to cosponsor the Equality Act to ensure federal protection against discrimination for every individual regardless of sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
  • Learn more and educate your community about the Equality Act and the positive impact it would have for LGBTQ individuals, using NCJW’s talking points and frequently asked questions.
  • Consider adding your name to a condolence message for the LGBTQ community of Orlando, coordinated by NCJW’s coalition partner, Keshet.
  • Find more resources for ways to respond in the wake of the shooting in Orlando on Keshet’s website.

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