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Enthusiastic agitators: Jewish women on birth control

I'm not the first one to point out how outrageous it is that in 2012, birth control is a controversial political issue. In these trying times, it helps to look back to the Jewish women who have come before us--and already fought this war for us--for outrage, guidance, and inspiration.

Below are some thoughts from Jewish women on contraception, taken from the handy book, The Quotable Jewish Woman, edited and compiled by Elaine Bernstein Partnow.

  • "No, it is not because woman is lacking in responsibility, but because she has too much of the latter that she demands to know how to prevent conception." ~ Emma Goldman, Mother Earth, 1916

  • "Although every organized patriarchal religion works overtime to contribute its own brand of misogyny to the myth of woman-hate, woman-fear, and woman-evil, the Roman Catholic Church also carries the immense power of very directly affecting women's lives everywhere by its stand against birth control and abortion, and by its use of skillful and wealthy lobbies to prevent legislative change. It is an obscenity--an all-male hierarchy, celibate or not, that presumes to rule on the lives and bodies of millions of women." ~ Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful, 1970

  • "In the middle-class United States, a veneer of 'alternative lifestyles' disguises the reality that, here as everywhere, women's apparent 'choices' whether or not to have children are still dependent on the far from neutral will of male legislators, jurors, a male medical and pharmaceutical profession, well-financed lobbies, including the prelates of the Catholic Church, and the political reality that women do not as yet have self-determination over our bodies and still live mostly in ignorance of our authentic physicality, our possible choices, our eroticism itself." ~ Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, 1979

In the 1916 article from the Los Angeles Observer (right), anarchist and "free thinker" Emma Goldman is called an "Enthusiastic Agitator of Birth Control." Today, we carry on the legacy of Jewish women like Goldman who fought for birth control access in the 20th century as the "enthusiastic agitators" of the 21st century.

Whenever you're feeling stuck, just ask yourself: WWEGD? (What would Emma Goldman do?)

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Enthusiastic agitators: Jewish women on birth control." 22 February 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 16, 2018) <>.


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