A female lawyer who fought for the right to choose? Pilpel me more!
It certainly has been a crazy month, huh? Like many people, I was shocked and disheartened by the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States. I know, I know. You’re sick of hearing about it and about the depressing and infuriating stories that accompany the president-elect. However, I want to talk about a Jewish lady who I’ve been thinking a lot about this past month, and in whom I’ve found comfort.
Your new #wcw is Harriet Fleischl Pilpel. Pilpel was a lawyer who championed privacy surrounding birth control, abortion rights, and first amendment rights. She got her start working as part of the birth control movement with Margaret Sanger, most notably playing a part in Griswold v. Connecticut. In this case, she argued that the government has no place interfering in women’s private sex lives. She also helped argue Roe v. Wade by hosting mock examinations so the prosecutors could solidify their case. In addition, Pilpel served as counsel to the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union. To top it all off, she also took on many cases defending first amendment rights; her most notable clients included Betty Friedan and Mel Brooks.
Can you see where we’re headed here? Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump threatened to overturn Roe v. Wade, and eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Now that he’s been elected, the threat is bigger than ever. When I heard the news about the election, my hand went immediately to my stomach. Never before had my body felt so foreign to me. It felt like my uterus belonged not to me, but to men who would deny me my right to choose based on their own misguided religious beliefs. Later that week, I tried to think about how Pilpel and other women felt before Roe v. Wade was decided, and also the strength they exhibited throughout that difficult and uncertain time. It must have been terrifying to stand up for women’s rights when faced with jail time or ostracization, and their dedication inspires me to want to defend and carry on their work today.
Harriet Fleischl Pilpel is a personal inspiration to me because she helped pave the way for girls like me who want to become (and maybe already are) advocates for sexual health. It’s no secret that I am a huge advocate for sex education. The work Pilpel did helped to normalize and legalize things like birth control and family planning, making it easier for women to access these services. This is particularly interesting because with our president-elect, accessibility hangs in the balance. The potential defunding of Planned Parenthood could lead to a proverbial tightening of their belt. This could possibly reduce the amount of community outreach they are able to do, further creating a barrier between the community and women’s health services. I hope to one day fight like Pilpel did, and reverse the restrictive laws on family planning that exist in America today.
Pilpel’s work for women’s rights has inspired me to act to prevent the steps backward that Trump is promising. While it may seem impersonal, money is very important to help organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights protect the women who use their services, and to strengthen pro-choice policy. I plan to call my senators and representative to remind them of the importance of pro-choice policy, something I think all women should do. Volunteering at a local women’s health center is another thing you can do to make a difference. There is plenty of work to be done; and now is not the time to sit back and be complacent. Policies regarding women’s reproductive rights affect everyone, so we have a collective responsibility to fight for justice in this arena. Now is the time to make like Harriet Pilpel and kick some misogynist butt!
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Ronkin, Katy. "A female lawyer who fought for the right to choose? Pilpel me more!." 16 December 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/female-lawyer-who-fought-for-right-to-choose-pilpel-me-more>.