This Tisha B’Av, I’m Mourning the Loss of Reproductive Rights

Steph Black, right, at an abortion rights rally in front of the Supreme Court in 2022. Photo courtesy of the author. 

Activists have been preparing for the fall of Roe v. Wade for years. But knowing this last protection for federal abortion rights was doomed didn’t make the news of its demise any easier to digest.

The aftermath was chaos. As an abortion activist, I was thrown into a flurry of emails, texts, phone calls, protests, and tears. My fellow activists and I were left scrambling to figure out which states would outlaw abortion immediately, which states needed a governor or attorney general’s signature first, and which states would ban abortion in the coming weeks. I worried about my organization, a group of volunteers that routinely provides housing and transportation to patients seeking abortions in my city. Would we be charged with aiding an abortion? I also sit on the board of an independent abortion clinic, The Emma Goldman Clinic, in Iowa. Would we be flooded with patients traveling from states where abortion had been banned?

Now, as more and more states officially force clinics to close their doors, my anger has given way to grief. Part of that grief is the nagging sense that I and others could have done more to prevent the avalanche.

As it happens, at this time of year, Jewish tradition presents us with a holiday that centers on mourning and loss: Tisha B’av, which starts this year on the evening of August 6. This is the day when Jews collectively mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and other, more recent tragedies, such as expulsions from Spain and England.

The three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av are called Bein Ha-Metsarim, which means “in the Straits.” Certainly, watching states pass extreme anti-abortion bills and overturn injunctions left and right has felt like being in the straits. Patients are being forced to travel extraordinarily long distances to states where there may be waiting periods, mandated counseling, and other harsh deterrents to care. This is already affecting those who need abortions, and people are being forced to give birth when they do not want to.

In the nine days before Tisha B’Av, a new level of mourning begins. We don’t celebrate weddings, cut our hair, or join in any celebrations, just as we would do if mourning the loss of a loved one, according to Jewish custom.

On Tisha B’Av itself, we fast. For 25 hours, we refrain from eating and drinking, to remind us of the tragedies we have collectively experienced as a people. We are commanded to refrain from the joyful study of Torah. Instead, we read from Megillat Eicha, the scroll of Lamentations, which describes how people can grapple with and survive great catastrophes. The deliberate, intentional day of mourning is our way of remembering all that we have lost and processing our grief together.

This Tisha B’Av, I’ll be mourning everything our country has lost as well. Our secular temple of justice, the Supreme Court, has lost its last shreds of legitimacy. Two justices, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, have been credibly accused of sexual assault. Another, Amy Coney Barrett, is a member of People of Praise, which has been described as a cult. Six lean so far to the right that it’s unclear how they can interpret the constitution objectively. Collectively, they have defiled what was once the beacon of our democracy.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision, millions of people will go without abortion care they need to protect their lives and their futures. This will especially impact those already marginalized and oppressed—BIPOC, queer and trans people, and those struggling financially.

This Tisha B’Av, I'm going to fast and read from the book of Lamentations. I will also revisit other important texts, such as Handbook for a Post-Roe America by Robin Marty, Reproductive Justice by Loretta Ross, and The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan.

I will let myself deeply feel how much we’ve lost, something I haven’t been able to do yet because I’ve been focusing on helping where I could. I am going to research the abortion funds that most need tzedakah and set up monthly donations.

Tisha B’av is a simple holiday, with few rituals other than those associated with mourning. I will take this time to finally sit with my sadness and anger and work through the injustices we are experiencing.

But on the tenth of Av, I will pick myself back up and get back to work making abortion accessible for all.

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How to cite this page

Black, Stephanie. "This Tisha B’Av, I’m Mourning the Loss of Reproductive Rights." 4 August 2022. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 15, 2022) <https://jwa.org/blog/tisha-bav-im-mourning-loss-reproductive-rights>.

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