Sisterhood Blog

Garson Romalis, Canada's Abortion Doctor

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The world has lost a Jewish man who was a champion of women’s rights. His name was Dr. Garson Romalis, and he was a member of my extended family.

I knew Gary as my cousin’s husband, but the rest of the world knew him as a staunch advocate of women’s reproductive healthcare and a woman’s right to choose. An obstetrician-gynecologist, he pioneered the provision of safe abortions to women in the Canadian province of British Columbia in the early 1970’s, a couple of years after abortion was legalized in Canada.

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Roe at 41 Marks a Time of Limited 'Rights' and Access

By Sarah Seltzer

Roe v. Wade turns 41 today. The past few years have witnessed the landmark Supreme Court, decision, which legalized abortion in 1973, become reduced to a shadow of itself, as state after state passed restrictions which winnowed down the ability to access abortion.

We have covered these developments again and again at the Sisterhood. The logic goes like this: add in waiting periods and parental consent laws, harass or restrict rural clinics out of existence and don’t allow insurance-covered abortion for those on public assistance, and what remains is a “right” that’s a right in name only for many who seek abortion care.

Jewish women have long been at the forefront of pro-choice activism over decades of feminist foment, from before Betty Friedan right through our current age of digital feminism. Today Ilyse Hogue, the new leader of NARAL Pro-Choice America (and one of the Sisterhood’s 2014 Jewish Women to Watch), has written a feisty op-ed in Politico called, “2014: The Year the Pro-Choice Crowd Fights Back.” Hogue notes that three years of anti-choice overreach is finally creating a backlash. “In 2013, we saw a movement starting to embody the old adage that the best defense is a good offense,” she notes, referring to grassroots efforts in states like New York to enshrine abortion rights more fully. Still, she writes, “It will take time for this shifting momentum to result in a full sea change.”

Hogue also writes that voters have wised up, and know that economic security and social issues can no longer be pried apart by politicians.

Gone are the days when conservatives could marginalize abortion access as a social issue and claim elections hinge on economic matters, especially with women driving the margin of victory in so many elections. Women in this country know that our economic security depends on our ability to decide when and with whom we have families.

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Abortion in 2014

By Sarah Seltzer

A new year has brought with it the growing realization that in America, access to abortion is slipping and slipping away. It’s so glaringly obvious that you can access this trend in multiple different forms, from charts and graphs to quotes from national movement leaders to on-the-ground anecdotes.

So, in what medium do you want this information about eroding reproductive rights?

The numbers:

A report from the Guttmacher Institute,] shows the plain numbers. In short: there were 70 abortion restrictions in 22 two states last year.

“To put recent trends in even sharper relief, 205 abortion restrictions were enacted over the past three years (2011–2013), but just 189 were enacted during the entire previous decade (2001–2010),” the report reads.

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Israeli Government To Subsidize Abortion but Not Birth Control

By Elissa Strauss

As conservative politicians continue to chip away abortion access around the United States, the Israeli government has decided to foot the bill.

According to Haaretz, in 2014 Israel will begin to pay for abortions for women between the ages of 20 and 33 under any circumstance and they hope to pay for all abortions in the future. Previously, Israel covered the costs of abortions for women of all ages in the case of medical emergencies, rape or sexual abuse.

Women who seek to terminate their pregnancies will have to appear before a state committee in order to receive the funding, which the new rule will raise from 16 to 24 million shekels, or around $6.9 million dollars a year.

Health officials say they expanded funding because they heard that “a large group of women between 20 and 40 who for various reasons – financial or reasons of secrecy – do not terminate pregnancies.” Yeesh, can you even imagine a government worrying about the fact that not enough women in their country are having abortions? I can’t.

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Birth Stories Are the New War Stories

By Elissa Strauss

The fact that birth stories are almost always intense and captivating is common-knowledge among women. The same goes for abortion stories, though those are less-frequently shared.

The comings and goings that occur in a woman’s womb are as dramatic and emotional as what happens on the battlefield. As entertaining, too.

There are moments of despair and moments of triumph, all bound up in feelings of doubt, confusion and relief. Every delivery story, every abortion story, every miscarriage story is epic in nature, perfectly capturing the tug-of-war between fragility and resilience that marks our experiences as human beings.

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What's Happening in Texas

By Sarah Seltzer

Right now in Texas, women are getting turned away from abortion clinics thanks the set of targeted regulations aimed at abortion providers once filibustered by Wendy Davis (pictured below), eventually upheld by a conservative appeals court.

The scene on the ground is not a pleasant, or a fair one. The Austin Chronicle reported “tears” and confusion at Planned Parenthood. Andrea Grimes, reporting for RH Reality Check, described a chaotic situation as Texas facilities attempt to “shuttle” patients with now-cancelled appointments for procedures to other, open, providers. Of her patients, CEO of Whole Woman clinics Amy Hagstrom Miller, said at a press conference, “They get really angry, asking, ‘Who decided this?’”

Anti-choice politicians, is the answer.

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A 'Vows' Column Acknowledges Abortion

By Sarah Seltzer

There was something a little bit different about a “Vows” column that showed up in last weekend’s New York Times.

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Udonis Haslem and Faith Rein

One chapter in a long, hurdle-filled, but ultimately fruitful story of love between athletes Faith Rein and Udonis Haslem was the termination of a pregnancy — an abortion that led to the blossoming of a deeper love.

Their first challenge took place the following spring when she became pregnant. It was her junior and his senior year, and he had begun training for the N.B.A. draft. Despite the pregnancy, she was busy with track meets and helping him complete homework. The timing was bad.

“I am not a huge fan of abortion, but we both had sports careers, plus we could not financially handle a baby,” said Mr. Haslem, noting how he struggled with supporting Kedonis, the son he had in high school, who is now 14 and who lives with his mother.

“Udonis appreciated that I was willing to have an abortion,” Ms. Rein said. “I found him caring, supportive, nurturing and all over me to be sure I was O.K. I saw another side of him during that difficult time and fell deeply in love. He had a big heart and was the whole package.”

Rein was raised by a Jewish father and black Baptist mother in the suburbs of Virginia. Haslem grew up in a gritty Miami neighborhood.

Statistics tell us that other happy marriages have an abortion as part of their trajectory into happily ever after — including many marriages that have been listed and feted in the New York Times and other similar society pages.

And that makes sense. Each choice we make in life closes some doors but opens others. And abortion is a choice no different from the rest.

For this particularly committed couple, it was the choice that gave them a chance at love. Ending a pregnancy can strengthen bonds that already exist–between mother and child she already has, between a young couple, between a woman and her family. It probably harms some relationships too, because it is a part of the human journey and always has been.

But acknowledging the truth of the procedure’s positive role in many lives can only help as we struggle to keep it legal. We can credit Americans’ growing acceptance of the LGBT community in part to the phenomenon of individuals “coming out” and forcing their loved ones to confront stigma and bias. I hope that more couples and individuals who have experienced abortion are willing to “come out of the closet” and point publicly to abortion as just one part of a long life story, and in some cases maybe even a love story.

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Why Combining Abortion with Austerity Is Wrong

By Sarah Seltzer

For years now at the Sisterhood we’ve been following a series of rollbacks of abortion rights and contraceptive access known as the War on Women. Despite losses at the voting booth and public opinion, far right wing legislators can’t stop and won’t stop pushing laws and regulations that hurt women and threaten providers. Resistance is everywhere: in Texas, 700 citizens staged a people’s filibuster against a last-minute anti-abortion bill, testifying late into the night and verging on large-scale civil disobedience. And yet anti-choice forces remain dogged and determined. Ohio and Wisconsin have also seen new anti-choice legislation and the House of Representatives passed a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks, a big slap in the face to Roe and reproductive rights.

For every bit of bad law that is staved off, more trickles in. And where they’re trickling in, trickle-down economics is also often becoming the law of the land. In a piece about Kansas as the ne plus ultra of new far right red-governed states, Mark Binnelli at Rolling Stone notes that abortion restrictions go hand in hand with economic policies that lead to the removal of safety nets. In Kansas this includes a proposed “radical, deeply regressive tax scheme.”

When free market capitalism runs amok, state services are cut in the name of “austerity,” and abortion services are also cut, you have a recipe for a lot of unplanned pregnancies for women in dire financial straits. And that means both more DIY abortions with the potential for dangerous consequences, as well as more women who simply don’t terminate and are raising children in reduced circumstances.

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They Said Fetuses Do What?

By Sarah Seltzer

Abortion should be banned because fetuses—male ones—are busy pleasuring themselves in the womb, didn’t you know? Yes, that is the logic that seemed to have come out of a legislator’s mouth this week. It appears that two of the Right Wing’s favorite bogeyman—abortion and masturbation—have come together in a perfect storm. These comments are giving all the recent “legitimate rape” blowups real competition for the most telling and disturbing words out of a male legislator’s mouth.

Adele Stan, reporting at RH Reality Check, got the story first. She explains the comments, which come in the context of a new and dangerous bill that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks and challenge Roe v. Wade.

As the House of Representatives gears up for Tuesday’s debate on HR 1797, a bill that would outlaw virtually all abortions 20 weeks post fertilization, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) argued in favor of banning abortions even earlier in pregnancy because, he said, male fetuses that age were already, shall we say, spanking the monkey. “Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” said Burgess, a former OB/GYN. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”

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The Enduring Rape Myth Created by Nazis

By Sarah Seltzer

Usually on the internet when Nazi analogies come into play, it means Godwin’s Law—the theory that all online arguments will eventually devolve into a Hitler comparison—has been invoked and the conversation is over.

But in the case of the “women who are raped can’t get pregnant” myth, a myth Republicans love to perpetuate, there’s actually truth in the comparison. This is because the myth originated with a “study” that was actually, gruesomely conducted in a concentration camp. As Emily Bazelon reminded us during the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” hullabaloo, this lie originates in part from an Nazi experiment.

Women were told they were on their way to die in the gas chambers—and then were allowed to live, so that doctors could check whether they would still ovulate. Since few did, Mecklenburg claimed that women exposed to the emotional trauma of rape wouldn’t be able to become pregnant, either.

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Plan B Is Free, But Stigma Remains

By Sarah Seltzer

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After years of cajoling, protesting, advocating and pleading from women’s health advocates, Plan B, the most commonly-used brand of emergency contraception, has been released from legal limbo. Hopefully this morning after pill will now be able to spend the rest of its days in the friendlier, more accessible haven of the pharmacy shelf rather than behind the counter.

This victory only came after Edward Korman, a Reagan-appointed judge, slammed the Obama administration for stonewalling and politicizing the issue after the FDA’s recommendation that the pill be available to women regardless of ability to furnish proof of age. The administration, loath to appeal the ruling further and alienate its base, caved.

I’ve been following the story here at the Sisterhood, continually baffled that a supposedly pro-science administration would embrace the conservative position on an issue of reproductive health. Should we credit this moment to the Obama administration finally seeing the light or, more cynically, should we note that the administration has done the right thing the very week they are under fire for the NSA snooping scandal?

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Beatriz is Dying: Religion’s Interference Endangers Women’s Lives

By Sarah Seltzer

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Amnesty International protest in support of Beatriz in front of El Salvador’s embassy in Mexico City on May 29.

The old second-wave feminist slogan goes: “Not the church; not the state; women must decide our fate.”

The horrifying case occurring in El Salvador today is an example of both church and state brutally interfering in the endangered life of a woman for the sake of misogynistic ideology.

Beatriz is a young mother in heavily Catholic El Salvador with a number of severe medical conditions and carrying a non-viable pregnancy. In her strictly anti-abortion country, doctors still advised a therapeutic termination — as did a number of international human rights agencies — but the procedure has been repeatedly denied.

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Why We Should Talk About Miscarriage and Abortion

By Chanel Dubofsky

Allison Shelley/Getty Images

A few months ago, a friend from college told me about her miscarriage, which happened between her first and second child.

“It’s so common,” she said. “I just think people should know that.”

After this friend’s disclosure, another friend told me she had had the same experience. And then another. Miscarriages are common, which was something I knew theoretically, but not in a way where I could attach the experience to a face. It made me wonder how many of my other friends had had miscarriages and just never said anything — because of the pain, the shock and the fear of sharing it with people. Suddenly, it felt like an avalanche: women telling stories of miscarriage so that people would know that it really did happened, so they would feel less alone, and so silence didn’t perpetuate stigma.

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Reproductive Rights Take More Hits

By Sarah Seltzer

Allison Shelley/Getty Images
Activists commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade at a vigil in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 2013.

Legal abortion could become a thing of the past in a handful of states if anti-choice efforts are successful. Note that I don’t say abortion will become a thing of the past, because the need for abortion will persist, but safe and legal abortion will be outlawed as a spate of new state-level laws curtail the procedure and shut down clinics.

For several years, as we’ve documented here at the Sisterhood, the anti-choice movement in the U.S. has been trying a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” technique. This flurry of uterus-focused activity got its own nickname: “The War on Women.” In reality, these unnecessary and intrusive health rollbacks hurt more than just one gender, and the “war” part didn’t stop when the catchphrase fell out of fashion. Some measures passed, others were modified, and now the assault on rights has ratcheted up again.

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Reproductive Rights Go Both Ways

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
A new Jewish immigrant during a welcoming ceremony after arriving in Israel on a flight from Ethiopia.

The news from Israel that Ethiopian Jewish women were given birth control shots without their consent has attracted quite a storm of argument, disillusionment and shock — as has the news of the huge number of extra-legal “black market” abortions, both addressed recently at the Sisterhood.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the fine points of Israeli public health policy; I only read what crosses my path stateside. But I do think a lot — maybe too much — about notions of reproductive choice, freedom and justice. And I see evidence that not all women who want terminations in Israel are getting them legally. Meanwhile, the state’s restrictions on the procedure are putting them in danger. At the same time, women of color in Israel have been coerced or misled into taking birth control shots. To me, these stories together exemplify how arguments over reproductive issues are oversimplified by our pro-choice/pro-life political tug of war here in the United States.

The fact is, the womb, the place from which life emerges, is a source of power. It will always tempt those who want power, and governments have and will frequently attempt to control women’s bodies and fertility — to take charge of ”the means of reproduction,” to use a spin on a Marxist phrase and the title of an excellent book on the subject.

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Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic

By Sarah Erdreich

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Protesters fought against closing the only abortion clinic in Mississippi.

Several years ago I saw the documentary film “The Last Abortion Clinic,” about the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) in Jackson, Mississippi. As the title indicates, JWHO is the last clinic in the state that provides abortions; it serves women from all over Mississippi, many of whom are low-income and have trouble paying for their medical care, to say nothing of arranging the transportation to make long journeys to the clinic. For someone like me, who grew up in a Midwest college town and had lived in Boston and New York, it was like watching a film set in a foreign land.

Still, the landscape depicted in the film was achingly familiar. My mother’s family has lived in Alabama since the 1860s and she grew up in a tight-knit Jewish community in Birmingham. My parents were married in Birmingham and my sister and I were born there; even though we moved north when I was very young, our deep roots and frequent visits combined to make me feel more comfortable in the South than anywhere else.

As JWHO fights to stay open, I’ve thought about “The Last Abortion Clinic” frequently over the past year. Governor Phil Bryant has made no secret of his desire to close the clinic, and thanks to a new law requiring the clinic’s physicians to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, he may get his way. The physicians, all of whom are licensed, have applied for privileges at seven local hospitals but have been turned down by all of them. The reason? It seems that the hospitals feel that granting them admitting privileges would be disruptive to its “function and business” in the community.

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Black Market Abortions in Israel

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Yediot Ahronot

Abortion has been legal in Israel since 1977. However, that does not mean that all abortions there are done according to the law.

An article published last year, co-authored by Sisterhood contributor and new JOFA executive director Elana Maryles Sztokman, states that no one knows exactly how many illegal abortions take place in Israel. However, according to a new investigation by Shosh Mula in Israel’s Yediot Ahronoth newspaper (published in the paper’s “7 Yamim” (7 Days) weekend supplement, which is not yet available online), it is possible to determine how many there are — and it is hard not to be shocked by the number.

According to Mula’s article, there are approximately 19,000 illegal abortions (of various kinds and in various settings) per year performed in Israel — the same number as legal abortions. The statistics were taken from a recent survey commissioned by New Family, the leading family rights organization in Israel that focuses on everything from gay rights and surrogacy law to fertility law and civil marriage.

With half of all abortions taking place below Israel’s official radar, a huge black market has developed. “A thousand shekels in [West Bank Palestinian town] Qalqilya, 5,000 shekels in a fancy clinic in Tel Aviv, or 500 shekels with a knitting needle in Jaffa: Welcome to Israel’s wild and reckless abortion black market,” the article begins. We’re talking about an underground economy of NIS 80 million ($22 million) per year.

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When Abortion Was Illegal

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Richard Marker

Richard Marker is an advisor to philanthropists, founder of New York University’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education, and co-principal of the firm Wise Philanthropy. He is also an ordained rabbi. In 1968 and 1969, when Marker was in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, he worked part-time as a chaplain at Rutgers University, and then at Hofstra University.

One day he counseled three Rutgers students who were distraught because their friend had died after having a back alley abortion. At a time when abortion was illegal in America, it led him to become a member of the Clergy Consultation Service, whose members referred young women in search of abortions to places where they could have the procedure done safely. Part of the idea behind the Clergy Consultation Service was that clergy were less likely than others to be prosecuted for providing abortion referrals, since they were believed to have legal protection of privileged conversation similar to that afforded lawyers.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the landmark 1973 United States Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal, The Sisterhood spoke with Marker about what was life was like at that time for young women facing unintended pregnancy, and about his experience as an activist trying to help them. When he began, he was 23 years old. (It is worth noting, as Linda Greenhouse has in a New York Times blog, that last year alone 19 state legislatures enacted a total of 43 new restrictions on access to abortion. Six states accounted for more than half the new restrictions, with the ever-reliable Arizona leading the pack with seven.) This is an edited and condensed version of the interview.

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An Open Letter On Abortion

By Chanel Dubofsky

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Dear Friend,

I am not particularly good at letting things go, especially in situations where I know I could have done better. Remember when you asked me in an IM conversation if I thought a woman should be able to have an abortion when she is 38 weeks pregnant? I’ve been thinking about what I could — and should — have said in response for a while now, because what I did say didn’t even come close to expressing what I really feel.

I knew that you wanted me to say no, that under no circumstance should a woman in her third trimester be able to have an abortion — that anyone who thought such a thing is unredeemably evil. And my instinct was to say no, because I felt unprepared to deal with the consequences of telling the truth. I managed to say that I think a decision like that should be between a woman and her doctor. But that was not the answer you wanted.

What I would have said is that a woman should be trusted with all decisions related to her body, and so yes, an abortion needs to be an option at every point of pregnancy. Either you trust women or you don’t. It’s that simple.

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Roe v. Wade: In Danger and Misunderstood

By Sarah Seltzer

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Are pregnant women people? Not if those who believe in the concept of legal fetal “personhood” have their way. Forty years since Roe v. Wade, the steady rollback of reproductive rights that has taken place in Statehouses across America doesn’t merely affect women who want to prevent or end pregnancies. It creates an alarming legal standard that hurts pregnant women carrying to term, too.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women conducted a comprehensive — and alarming — study in which they investigated the incarceration, detention and forced medical intervention of hundreds of pregnant women based on a wide-range of cases since Roe was enacted.

Their report contains tough-to-read stories, including an instance where a woman was forced to have a C-section against her will (she later died), another case where a woman was kept in jail to deny her an abortion, and a case where a woman who refused prenatal testing was locked in a hospital to force it on her — and the testing was never done. Reproductive justice advocates have long warned that proposed “fetal personhood measures” meant miscarriages could be investigated as crimes, and indeed in some cases, they already have been.

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