It is no secret that American Jews, especially Jewish women, are staunchly pro-choice. Norman Podhoretz has written that many Jewish women “think that the absolute right to an abortion had been inscribed on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.” It is no exaggeration to say that abortion rights are a much more significant factor (as are the environment, health care, and every item on the domestic wish list of the left) than Israel in determining the votes of a sizeable segment of Jewish voters.
So you can imagine the reaction when a new Jewish organization dedicated to providing resources, counseling, and ample information to pregnant Jewish women and teens — one not even pro-life in its core message — arrived on the scene. Yes, liberal Jews went bonkers.
The group is In Shifra’s Arms, headed by a young Jewish woman, Erica Pelman. Pelman was inspired to start the organization after a life-altering experience — she found herself unable and uncertain about how to provide advice to a friend who was pregnant and who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. The group does not advocate politically or tout a pro-life line. Rather, its focus is on providing resources to pregnant girls and women should they choose to have their baby and making clear that no woman should feel that abortion is her only option. Its website explains:
We know that many women do not feel free to choose parenting or adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and therefore feel they must abort. In one study, 64% of American women who aborted reported being pressured by others to abort and 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling prior to aborting (1). Additionally, research has found that college campuses in particular are very unlikely to provide support for pregnant students and this lack of support becomes a pressure to abort; about a third of abortions take place amongst college-aged women (2). …
We respect each woman’s ability to determine her future. We would not judge any woman for becoming pregnant unintentionally or for considering abortion. We believe in the inner strength, independence, and capabilities of the women who call us.
Now could that be controversial? How could giving a girl maternity clothes, an internship in D.C. (so her gap in schooling is not a hindrance in her future career), and explaining that there is a huge demand among Jewish women to adopt (all of which Shifra’s Arms does) objectionable? After all, there are many Christian and non-denominational counseling organizations, but none other than Shifra’s Arms that is aimed at the Jewish community. Well, to those who shudder at the notion that abortion may have adverse psychological consequences or that an abortion is not any bigger deal than have your nails done, Shifra’s Arms is an anathema.
In a piece by the Jewish Weekly, critics pounced. Alyssa Zucker, professor of psychology and women’s studies at George Washington University, asserted “while these organizations say they are about choice, they are really not. Their goal is to convince women not to have abortions.” Nancy Ratzan, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, declared that Sifra’s Arms’s website “looks like it fits the model that targets young women in a deceptive way. … [We are] greatly concerned about pregnancy crisis centers and their focus to limit women’s choice and undermine the rights of women.”
What seems to get under these groups’ skins is the mere suggestion that abortion may be a traumatic event with long-term consequences to women. (In the Jewish Weekly, Zucker proclaimed: “From looking at the In Shifra’s Arms Web site, it is talking about emotional risks, but it is citing studies that show extreme results. … The majority of studies show women are fine.”) The Shifra’s Arms’s website provides links to research studies and websites regarding the impact of abortion. In measured language, it explains:
Every abortion procedure involves some potential risk of harm and side effects. You have the legal right to know what type of procedure will be performed upon you and what specific risks of harm or side effects are associated with the performance of this procedure on you. Many women, particularly women who have felt rushed or coerced into abortion, or who felt they did not have access to other options, report significant emotional side effects. Other women feel relieved in the short term, but later feel significant loss or regret.
But that is too much for many rabidly pro-abortion groups. Attacks sprang up at a variety of websites. At the Reproductive Health website, the editor in chief, Jodi Jacobson, attacked Shifra’s Arms and all pregnancy-counseling organizations as frauds and menaces that seek to “channel” women’s choices (unlike the pristinly neutral Planned Parenthood?). Over at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, they were outraged that women might not get an undiluted pro-abortion message, but they were heartened as well: “At least we can get comfort in the backlash from other Jewish groups and bloggers, and the fact that out of thousands of these centers, only one is aimed at Jewish women.” Good to know that the hysteria from fellow Jews was solace.
The critics also complain that Shifra’s Arms doesn’t provide contraception or medical advice. Pelman explains to me that the employees are not medical professionals and don’t dispense medical advice. Instead, they provide mentors to young women, explain adoption rules, assist in dealing with school administrators, and, for clients who want to either keep the baby or pursue adoption, support them in counteracting the overwhelming pressure they may face to abort and “get on” with their lives. Perlman says simply, “There are two ways to terminate a pregnancy — abortion and giving birth.”
The critics of Shifra’s Arms reveal far more about themselves than the object of their ire. It seems there is nothing quite so dangerous in their eyes as providing Jewish women with information and an alternative that clashes with the abortion-on-demand inscription on those liberal tablets. And abortion-rights activists certainly don’t appreciate the reminder that there are Jewish couples waiting in some cases more than a decade to adopt a Jewish baby.
Abortion-rights advocates insist they aren’t “pro-abortion,” but their vehement reaction to a group offering real choice (and an opportunity for Jewish women to contemplate a critical life decision) is the most telling evidence that this is precisely what they are.