The RAC is proud to bring thousands of teens to Washington D.C. for our annual L'Taken Social Justice Seminars. After three days of intensive programming, learning about just a few of the many issues prevalent in our country today, all participants travel to Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress and advocate in support of the things they care about.
Delilah S., Ella B., and Ella P. are all 10th graders at Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, California. They participated in the L'Taken Social Justice Seminar in January 2024, when they delivered this speech to their members of Congress. As we celebrate Repro Shabbat on February 8-9, 2024, we share their remarks about the importance of reproductive health and rights for all.
Hello Congresswoman Jacobs! Our names are Delilah S. (she/her), Ella B. (she/her), and Ella P. (she/her). We are here on behalf of the RAC and Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego. Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us. Today, we would like to talk to you about Reproductive Rights.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade completely stripped the rights of so many people (including cisgender women, non-binary people, transgender men, and others who can become pregnant) across America. After the decision was made in June of 2022, 25 states restricted their laws surrounding reproductive rights. A third of the US population of women of reproductive age are living in states where abortion is severely restricted or even completely unavailable. This leads to people traveling to other states, though this isn't possible for everyone due to money and other commitments. This causes them to have to take matters into their own hands which can be seriously damaging to their mental and physical health. Texas is home to nearly 7 million women, including 3 million of whom are of reproductive age (15-49). Abortion is now completely banned with only 2 exceptions, and the average one-way driving distance to the nearest clinic that performs an abortion at 20 weeks is 250 miles, and at 22 weeks, it is 547 miles.
4 in 5 Americans feel that the decision to get an abortion should be left to a woman and her doctor rather than politicians and the government. Nobody should be forced to have a child for any reason. There are many times in which a person gets pregnant but carrying or raising a child would present significant challenges to their mental health, including trans men and nonbinary individuals for whom pregnancy could cause extreme dysphoria and survivors of sexual assault who would have a constant reminder of their most difficult moments.
This issue is also important to us as Jews. As Jews, we believe that life is sacred and that physicians must help those in need; banning such health rights, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional health is contrary to what our religion tells us. Furthermore, not allowing patients to make their own decisions about their own health can and will affect them for the rest of their lives is also against our beliefs. One of our most revered Jewish sages, Maimonides, tells us in the Mishnah Torah that "Women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies above all else," meaning that the mother's life is of the utmost importance. If a physician withholds medical care from someone in need, they have shed blood. Both of these points strongly support reproductive rights in favor of abortion and healthcare for those that need it. Judaism constantly expresses the importance of listening to the sacred commandments of all access to reproductive healthcare.
June 24th, 2022: a day I [Ella P.] still remember vividly. I was at my favorite place with my favorite people - Jewish sleepaway camp. At camp I feel supported, loved, and understood. My cabinmates and I went to breakfast as usual. The dining hall was filled with the usual sounds of chatter and giggles when suddenly the news was spread. I watched people turning to whisper to one another. Their smiles dropped. As a 15-year-old girl at sleepaway camp I didn't think it was anything more than drama or gossip. When I heard the news, I couldn't believe it : Roe v. Wade had been overturned. In that moment, I felt so small. I felt emotions of shame and guilt. I asked myself, "Is there anything I could have or should have done?" I felt that democracy had failed me. Something that I had always took for granted had been ripped away from me.
I watched as the energy in the room drastically shifted. I had never seen a group of teenagers in such a daze. Later, we (the older group) were called in to discuss the news with our counselors. Seeing my counselors, the people I looked up to, in such distraught frightened me. They explained Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court's decision. I wondered and hoped the Supreme Court Justices could sense my anger. Being in the middle of the woods at camp I felt isolated and longing to take action. I looked around to see a room filled of teary eyes, hugs given, and blank stares of sadness and disappointment. For the whole day we were an emotionally fragile group. The usual joy and spirit, or ruach as we say in Hebrew, had vanished. Although you may not expect a group of typically rambunctious teenagers to care, we felt pain for ourselves and for others. Despite our young age we recognized the marginalized groups being affected like women of color. I also acknowledged my privilege and others struggles. I am fearful and reluctant to live in a state banning abortion which makes me grateful to live in California. I recognize the rare privilege I have. I am grateful to be able to travel to a state and pay for the expenses in order to get an abortion if needed. By banning abortion and restricting rights we hurt our most marginalized communities even more. Although I and people of my age do not plan on a pregnancy in the near future, the option for safe abortion needs to be open. Currently, in California, pregnant patients can get an abortion.
We thank Representative Jacobs for cosponsoring the Women's Health Protection Act in the 118th Congress, which establishes a statutory right for healthcare providers to provide, and their patients to receive abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions, and ask that they continue to support the bill in the 118th Congress. Thank you for your time and attention, Representative Jacobs.
As we celebrate Repro Shabbat, urge Congress to protect reproductive rights by passing the Women's Health Protection Act.