Uniting our Voices for Abortion Rights, Access and Equity
On a sunny Tuesday in February, about 100 members and friends reunited for NCJW/Essex’s first in-person Lunch and Learn – this time with lunch and conversation – in three years. A strong sense of community filled the room and served as a fitting backdrop to the discussion of the day.
So much has changed since we were last together. What should have been a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was derailed by the Dobbs decision last June when the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away the constitutional right to abortion. NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman reminded us that Dobbs has “set off a cascade of abortion bans and other laws that have restricted access to abortion across the country, with abortion-seekers who are poor, young, Black and brown being the most severely affected.”
Now we ask ourselves how do we, especially as members of faith communities, move forward and what is the role of religious freedom on abortion in America? Our outstanding speakers were ready to take on this question. Kimberly Mutcherson, Co-Dean of Rutgers Law School in Camden and a leading scholar on reproductive justice was joined by three local faith leaders – Rabbi Alexandra Klein of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange (and our host for the day), Reverend Eyesha Marable of the Mt. Zion AME Church in Millburn and the Reverend Dr. Robin Tanner from the Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit – for a thoughtful conversation around what is happening, what we are working for and why it all matters so much.
Rabbi Klein started things off by saying that it is vital not only to speak strongly with your own religious voice, but to lift up the multiplicity of religious voices and, as is Jewish tradition, to always treat everyone with dignity. She reminded us that we are obligated to “be more educated” about these issues and their effect on our community at large. Rev. Tanner added that her faith commands a “life-affirming ethic” which includes access to abortion and that the right to have or not have a child and to parent a child is a choice each individual should be able to make for themselves. Moral reasoning rather than demagoguery, according to Rev. Tanner, should always be our guide about abortion and all else. “We all just need to ask ourselves how we can be better humans together,” she said.
Rev. Marable said that from her pulpit she preaches “love thy neighbor as thyself,” which serves as a pathway to caring equally for our neighbors, especially women who have been silenced or judged. The arts which play a significant role in Rev. Marable’s work, give people opportunities to interact and tell stories in unconventional ways in conventional settings, she said. But, that neighborly connection is ever present – sharing can be difficult so Rev. Marable ensure social workers or other caregivers are nearby and available to surround participants with the support and services they need, especially during events that are likely to surface strong emotions.
The value of using our voices was a thread through virtually every question and every answer, starting with simply saying the word abortion. Every time we say it out loud lessens the shame and may inspire or empower others to share their stories. In fact, two of our speakers recounted how telling their own abortion stories led not only to personal catharsis, but to others in their communities opening up. Each of our faith leaders use their platforms to speak for abortion rights AND to speak for economic and social justice. They implore us that in all cases it is okay to be loud, and it is equally important to be organized. Like with all things, including abortion, it is more difficult to argue with one person’s experience than with talking points.
Rabbi Klein added that if Jews, as a small minority in a Christian majority world, don’t come together, we get swallowed up and our voice is buried. She went on to remind us that the historical narrative of the Jewish people is one of endurance, resilience, results, followed by “let’s eat!” In all seriousness, she added that our narrative continues to provide strength community and connections, and we are very grateful that on this day and in this time, so many people want to do more for social justice.
Finally, to the question of the day, “Whose God Rules?” Dean Mutcherson asked the speakers how they talk with people who claim that that bible prohibits abortion. As a group they answered, it’s about whose God, whose bible and whose interpretation of the text, all of which makes it even more vital for progressives to tell their stories boldly, confidently and with the same level of organization we are accustomed to from the right.
As the room emptied, the sense of community was fortified with each attendee having learned more about what they can do to restore abortion rights and to ensure access, equity and all that those issues encompass. Hopefully, they learned a little more about themselves, too.
The Abortion Justice Committee of New Jersey – Action Together New Jersey – ACLU-NJ – Ahavas Sholom – American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch – BlueWaveNJ – Diversity United – Jewish Family Service of MetroWest – NCJW Bergen – NCJW Jersey Hills – NCJW West Morris – New Jersey Affiliate of the American College of Nurse Midwives – New Jersey Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – NJ 11th For Change – North Jersey Practical Support – Northern NJ NOW – Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey – Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan NJ – Rachel Coalition – The Reproductive Justice Team of the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood – S.O.F.I.A.-Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates – South Jersey NOW Alice Paul Chapter – Stanton Strong- Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel- Unitarian Universalist Faith Action NJ – YWCA Northern New Jersey – The Women’s Centers