Sisterhood Blog

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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A First-Time Mother, at Age 73

By Leah Berkenwald

Is 73 too old to become a first-time mother? Not for the trailblazing Marylin Berger, who is now raising an 8-year-old boy from Ethiopia.

The New York Times describes Marylin Berger as “someone who knew her own mind.” Long before it was normal to see women on the news, Marylin Berger was the White House correspondent for NBC News. She would later go on to write for the New York Times. At 43, she remarried to Don Hewitt, the creator of “60 Minutes,” who passed away last year. At 60, she took up sailing and at 72, she began writing her first book. It was this book, about which the Forward recently wrote, that led her to Ethiopia and to motherhood.

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts weekly with the Sisterhood.

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