Why Supporting Planned Parenthood is a Jewish Issue

The attack on Planned Parenthood is only the latest in a campaign by anti-abortion activists and politicians to interfere with a woman’s personal decision-making, to challenge our religious freedom and to push affordable health care out of reach, including abortion. Past efforts to ban federal funds from Planned Parenthood have failed, so now abortion opponents have mounted a new attack targeting the organization, using videos that were surreptitiously obtained and heavily edited to make it appear that Planned Parenthood profits from the “sale” of fetal tissue, which it most clearly does not.

Make no mistake. The majority of the victims of this campaign will be low-income people who are disproportionately women of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrant women, and young people who have no other access to affordable, comprehensive reproductive health care. Nine-tenths of what Planned Parenthood does is preventive care, including providing lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV. Overall, the organization serves 2.7 million patients per year — in fact, one in five women has relied on a Planned Parenthood health center during her lifetime. That is the work that will be defunded if the campaign against Planned Parenthood succeeds.

Put even more simply, if federal funding to Planned Parenthood is eliminated, its clinics will be forced to shut down. Shutdowns would create a chasm in services far too big for other existing health providers to fill, leaving patients struggling to make ends meet with little recourse to access comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care.

In 2013 Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received $528.4 million from the federal government in reimbursements and grants. Reimbursements through Medicaid account for the vast majority of funds received. This money paid for treatment of 1.5 million people — six in ten women who access care from a family planning health center consider it their main source of health care.

Planned Parenthood also receives federal grants for lifesaving cervical and breast cancer screenings, teen pregnancy prevention, evidence-based sex education, as well as for chlamydia testing, STI and HIV screenings, and other health care-related activities. State and local governments also fund the work of Planned Parenthood in these areas, and that work would no doubt be at risk if efforts to defund at the federal level are successful.

As a Jewish woman, I believe that our tradition calls us to support not only the right, but the ability of every person to make their own decisions about their body, family, and future in consultation with their loved ones without political interference or economic coercion. We are commanded by our faith to “pursue justice” and not to stand idly by while “stumbling blocks” are put in the way of those in need. Quality health care is an essential need and no one should be allowed to place a woman’s moral autonomy, health, economic security, or well-being at risk. In the context of this latest threat, our particular Jewish values compel us to advocate for universal access to comprehensive health care. This is why the National Council of Jewish Women, an organization that has always supported a woman’s right to choose and, more specifically, staunchly supports Planned Parenthood for the comprehensive, quality care it provides.

Given that government defunding would close clinics and push critical health care out of reach, an attack on Planned Parenthood is indeed an attack on the moral and bodily autonomy of individuals and families in our communities. We cannot stand idly by and let politicians construct ever more roadblocks to care for low-income women, young people, and others struggling to get by. Fortunately, on Monday evening the US Senate blocked the latest bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood on the basis of untrue charges that the organization profits from selling fetal tissue.

The use of fetal tissue for lifesaving research is not new or different just because someone who has had an abortion chooses to donate it to help in developing life-saving vaccines or help in the search for a cure to Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. In some cases such tissue has been used to develop new lines of stem cells that are used in many ways to advance medical science. If a woman chooses to donate fetal tissue, her decision should be respected and accommodated when possible, as it is in other health care circumstances. Those who attack Planned Parenthood’s role in legally making such tissue available also attack the moral autonomy of women who make the personal decision to donate it to help save the lives of others.

The creation of phony videos obtained under false pretenses to undermine individuals and organizations is not new to the political arena. But the latest scheme based on a sham company that even filed misleading tax documents marks a new low in the battle to attack women and destroy Planned Parenthood. It also illustrates the lengths to which some will go in order to impose their own fundamentalist religious beliefs on the rest of the country in order to block access to a legal medical procedure, stigmatize providers, and shame women for their health care decisions. The smear videos are part of a wider agenda that is seeking to push abortion out of reach by regulating abortion providers out of business, passing laws that make abortion illegal at 20 weeks in violation of Roe v. Wade, and requiring unnecessary invasive medical procedures intended to discourage women from having abortions. However we feel about abortion, it is unjust for politicians to force one religious belief into law and to support the views of those who oppose abortion to make safe medical care more difficult to obtain.

It is not just the survival of Planned Parenthood that is at stake now, but the survival of our religious liberty that our founding fathers so appropriately created. As Jewish women, that is why we seek to support Planned Parenthood and make our voices heard.

Nancy K. Kaufman is CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women.

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