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

| Kristen Strezo, NCJW Activist

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) 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

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