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JWA and Jewish History Stand for Abortion Rights

Photo Credit: Marc Nozell/Wikimedia Commons

“We won’t go back.”  

This was a rallying cry of the reproductive rights movement for decades. But today’s disastrous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade does send this country back, undermining the rights of all its citizens, especially women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, those with disabilities, and lower-income people.  

Abortion is not only about women’s rights. It is also an essential issue of health care, economic justice, religious freedom, bodily autonomy, and human dignity.  

As we know all too well, and as today’s news confirms, history is not a story of linear progress. Though we have lost our rights, we must not and will not lose the knowledge and wisdom that history provides.  

We will continue to fight, strengthened by the lessons of history, which teach us that abortion access is a Jewish value, enshrined in our texts, and has long been a Jewish fight, sustained by generations of ordinary and extraordinary people.  

If you need some strength and support today, you can turn to the stories of: 

  • Fania Mindell, who helped Margaret Sanger open the first birth control clinic in 1916 

  • Radicals such as Emma Goldman and Rose Pastor Stokes, who spoke out for the social, economic, and sexual emancipation of women 

  • Early physicians, such as Bessie Moses, Hannah Stone, Lena Levine, and Ruth Finkelstein, who worked for reproductive rights  

  • Harriet Pilpel, who shaped the legal arguments for reproductive rights leading up to Roe 

  • Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, who decriminalized abortion in France 

  • The brave women who held the first abortion speak-out in 1969 (and turned Gloria Steinem into a feminist) 

  • The rabbis of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, who helped women find abortion providers before Roe 

  • The underground abortion collective known as Jane, which provided safe and affordable abortions to thousands of women in Chicago before Roe legalized abortion 

  • Lorraine Rothman, who created a tool for “menstrual extraction” 

  • Joyce Antler, who not only helped repeal New York’s laws against abortion, but also ensured that women had real access to medical services once abortion was legalized 

  • Ruth Proskauer Smith, a founder of NARAL, and Marianne Lieberman, a Holocaust survivor whose abortion after rape moved her to bring NARAL to North Carolina to fight for reproductive justice there  

  • Radical doula Miriam Zoila Pérez, who in 2007 created a network of coaches to support people of all genders, races, and economic backgrounds through pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, and abortion 

  • The many women who founded, led, and organized the women’s health movement, including groups like Our Bodies, Ourselves, and the National Women’s Health Network 

  • Jewish organizations like the National Council of Jewish Women, which has been leading on reproductive rights for more than a century 

  • And the many young activists who are carrying on this legacy with their own fight for reproductive justice 

Today, the legal clock has been turned back, and the consequences will be deadly and devastating. Today, we must look back so that we can move forward, powered by the energy of our forebears and the lessons of their stories.  

Listen to their voices, and raise your own.  




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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "JWA and Jewish History Stand for Abortion Rights." 24 June 2022. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 3, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/jwa-and-jewish-history-stand-abortion-rights>.