In November 1995, I sat at an abortion clinic filling out paperwork. It was a difficult time in my life. I was ashamed and did not know who the father was. I was 24-years-old and not ready to be a mom. Abortion seemed to be the best option, given I am pro-choice.
However, being pro-choice does not equal wanting to abort. I realized this and tears started falling on the paper in my hand. This is not for me. I walked out, not knowing what I was going to do next, but knowing that I couldn’t terminate my pregnancy no matter how hard it was.
Every step felt lonely and painful. Even though ultimately, I found wonderful adoptive parents for my daughter, the adoption lawyer directly undermined the open adoption she had promised. I still remember being alone in the hospital with an infection after birth, in pain and weeping for days.
For many years I didn’t talk about this experience because when people talk about abortion and adoption, everyone comes with so much judgment, opinions, and agenda. Particularly in the Jewish community, my OWN community.
The cost of this is that my pain and the actual pain of so many women become invisible. And our needs are invisible too.
Much of the Jewish community is focused on abortion access — and for many reasons, this is important. But what about our community’s moral obligation to support women who choose to continue their pregnancies — even in the most difficult of circumstances? What about their needs?
Sadly, for some, offering abortion access is a way of getting off the hook. “You can just abort — don’t ask me to help you with diapers, your career, child care, long term emotional support…. If you feel sad about your loss, you are just being too emotional.”
This is the opposite of being truly pro-choice. We need to be willing to be there, with compassion, for women in the process of the decision and as they deal with the ramifications of whatever decision they make. While no one knows the exact numbers, every day there are Jewish women who find themselves pregnant and vulnerable for a whole variety of reasons. Some are married and under financial pressure, some are single and unprepared. Some are divorcing. Others suffer abuse, both physical and emotional.
These women mostly know that the vast majority of the Jewish community supports a woman’s legal right to choose abortion. But what I needed to know when I was pregnant, and what other women also need is this: if they want support to continue a pregnancy, the Jewish community will be here for them and any children they chose to bring into the world — no matter what challenges they are facing during pregnancy and after.
Two years ago, I discovered In Shifra’s Arms (ISA), a small, courageous Jewish organization which provides pregnancy help. As I spoke with the founder of In Shifra’s Arms, I saw that this is the organization I needed all those years ago. Had I chosen to go through with the abortion, In Shifra’s Arms-trained counselors would have provided free counseling sessions afterward and referrals for social support services as I processed through the experience. They would have helped me to address the underlying issues that led me to that situation (it was more than an issue of birth control, that is for certain).
When women choose to continue their pregnancy, ISA offers free counseling and social services regardless of whether they place for adoption or choose to keep their baby. ISA offers personalized support to pregnant and postpartum women beyond what an adoption agency would do and only refer to reputable agencies. Most clients, however, choose to parent, and ISA helps them with free counseling and targeted financial grants for needs such as diapers, career-related grants, and postpartum support.
We need to move beyond politics and theory to focus on meeting the needs of women in our community, bringing together Jewish women with tattoos and Jewish women with sheitels and everyone in between. This is what In Shifra’s Arms does and this what our community must do. Vulnerable pregnant women need more than abortion access — they need unconditional love and help. Let’s come together to start providing that support.