Why I’m Constantly Telling My Abortion Story in Jewish Spaces

It's part of our larger Jewish story.

As a millennial Jew, I’m probably a lot like you. I only go to Jewish events when they have snacks. I know the rebbetzin from summer camp, and I have met your cousin. I got blonde highlights for Hanukkah (and it was the best gift ever). I care about social issues, and believe what the ACLU tells me. And, like one in four of you, I have had an abortion.

Jewish women have abortions. Jewish women have always had abortions, and probably always will. And I’m talking about all types of Jewish women, from the ultra-Orthodox to the post denominational agnostic. Whatever kind of community you’re in, someone — probably several someones — has had an abortion. These stories are a part of our larger Jewish story.

For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone about my abortion. I assumed that it, like the rest of my medical history, was something no one but my doctor needed to know. But since the 2016 election, we’ve all gotten much louder. I tell this story as much as I need to now, sometimes in formal Jewish spaces, but mainly online. I was even lucky enough to speak earlier this year to a group of 20 and 30-somethings at the synagogue I grew up in. Talking it out can feel cathartic, but more than that, it can feel very Jewish.

While it’s still rare to talk about abortion from the bima, abortion is talked about all the time in text and Talmud study, in prayer circles before rallies, at Rosh Chodesh women’s circles, and even on Twitter thanks to prominent rabbis like Danya Ruttenberg. Often after I’ve shared my story, people come up to me to share their own. One of the most important parts of being Jewish is tradition, after all. And Jewish people, especially Jewish women, have a proud tradition of being a part of the pro-choice movement. We are the proud founders, volunteers, donors, and employees of incredible organizations within the reproductive justice movement, and by sharing my story, I am a part of that.

But it can be hard to be the person who speaks out, and occasionally I regret what I’ve done. Not every space is a safe one. The pro-life movement can be incredibly scary, and I am always a little worried that occasional online shade will turn into full-blown harassment. Additionally, the pro-life movement can be very anti-Semitic. Ironically, its members can be inappropriately obsessed with the Holocaust — to the point where I’ve seen anti-abortion protestors shouting that abortion is equivalent to committing “another Holocaust” to the Jewish volunteers at a Planned Parenthood. I guess they don’t realize that Holocaust survivors — and their children and grandchildren — have had (and still have) abortions.

Even pro-choice spaces can be rough, though. From awkward conversation about Israel/Palestine to tone policing about religion, I’ve gotten into some uncalled-for arguments when simply trying to share my story. If you ever find yourself staying up to argue about how religious circumcision is different from abortion, go to bed.

Nevertheless, I will keep sharing my story.

Right now, we’re living in a world where speaking your truth feels like an act of rebellion, and I hope I can always feel proud of what I’ve done. People have asked why I draw so much attention to something so personal and the reality is this: It happened, whether or not I tell it. Jewish women have abortions. It’s a part of our tradition. Are you going to make room for us, to share our stories and community, or do we have to keep fighting for the space?

If you have a story, and you feel ready to share it, know that I and so many other members of our community will always have your back.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that telling people you had an abortion is not the worst thing you can say. The worst thing you can say is that you hate brunch. (But seriously, it’s a trash meal, overrated, and alcohol does not need orange juice.) It’d be a better use of your time to go to services, have some challah, and start telling some Jewish abortion stories.

Image via Lori Shaull/Flickr 

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