GUEST COLUMN: We must talk more about reproductive justice

Rabbi Rafi Spitzer
Rabbi Rafi Spitzer

By Rabbi Rafi Spitzer
For The Daily Gazette

With the Clomid already in our cabinet, my wife Rachael and I were about to begin infertility treatments when we discovered that she was pregnant.

While it took some time, our first pregnancy was uneventful and healthy.

We managed to get pregnant quickly the next time, and were feeling excited when we went together to the first appointment at eight weeks to hear a heartbeat and see the ultrasound of our future child.

We were completely unprepared for the trauma that came next. The doctor entered the exam room and quietly told us that this fetus was not viable.

While we were emotionally unprepared to hear that devastating news, we also did not know the next steps.

Rachael was offered three options: a small surgery, a medication to induce the uterus to reject the pregnancy, or to wait until her body recognized that this wasn’t a viable pregnancy and rejected it itself. She was advised that the pill was the best option for a person of her age and health history so she selected that method.

The medication, taken several times over 24 hours, is very similar, or identical in some cases, to one used to provide medically-induced abortions.

In fact, because Rachael chose from a menu of options, it felt a bit like an elective procedure even though it wasn’t.

In addition to the trauma and sadness of the miscarriage itself, we also struggled with our fear that we had accidentally terminated a viable and wanted potential life.

Several months later, Rachel became pregnant again.

Again, we were excited to attend the eight-week appointment.

But again, the fetus did not grow, and again were told that the safest way to end the nonviable pregnancy was through a medically-induced termination.

With two miscarriages in the past two years, the most recent pregnancy that led to our newborn son was anxiety-ridden and challenging.

As the country still struggles to deal with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the same pill that my wife took to terminate her unviable pregnancy has surfaced in the news.

Last month the Supreme Court granted the Trump administration’s request to reinstate long-standing restrictions for patients seeking to obtain the drug used for abortions early in pregnancy.

Federal courts, citing the pandemic, had previously blocked the enforcement of rules that require an in-person visit with a medical professional to pick up the medication.

When I think about the trauma of miscarriage, in my own experience and in the experiences of congregants and friends who have confided in me, the idea that our government would add another level of trauma by decreasing access to good, safe, and just health care is deeply upsetting.

Following my wife’s second miscarriage, I received her permission to share our story from my pulpit.

When I shared this news with my congregation, many people reached out and started to share stories of their own.

I heard over and over how isolating it was to go through a loss like that—and that since people do not usually talk about it, their grief felt hidden.

Speaking about topics deemed as “private” like grief and loss, sex and infertility, IVF and miscarriage, pregnancy and abortion, among other topics from the pulpit gives people permission to talk more openly, to share their feelings, to connect to others, and to not feel so alone.

Jewish tradition explicitly permits abortion and even requires it in certain cases if the life of the pregnant person is at risk.

While the country, like the Jewish community, is overall accepting of abortion, it is not often discussed in communal spaces.

The more we talk about it, the more we bring the real lived experience into our sacred spaces.

On Saturday, my congregation will be participating in National Council of Jewish Women’s Repro Shabbat initiative by lifting up the necessary Jewish voice and perspective of reproductive health access, rights, and justice.

Religion in general is supposed to speak to life, to give us a meaningful path for living.

If religion doesn’t speak to our experiences, regardless how messy and painful they may be, then it isn’t useful.

This initiative is an attempt to break down this stigma and open up religious spaces as safe spaces to talk about reproductive health in general.

The more we share with each other, the more we invite holy presence, and perhaps even the Holy Presence, into our hearts and communities.

Judaism is unequivocal: Reproductive justice is not just for women, it’s for everyone.

Everyone is deserving of health care. We all deserve the dignity of access to health care that is the right care for us.

Let’s not think in 2021 that we no longer have to deal with these issues. Let’s instead make sure everyone has access to necessary, affordable health care that is right for them.

And let’s stop thinking that our religious spaces should be excluded from these conversations.

Rabbi Rafi Spitzer is a participant in National Council of Jewish Women’s Repro Shabbat and the rabbi and spiritual leader of Congregation Agudat Achim, Schenectady’s only USCJ-affiliated synagogue.


Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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