Women of Reform Judaism members (from left) Robin Cohen, Julia Weinstein, Julia Wackenheim and Deb Lelchuk at the May 21, 2019 "Ban the Bans" rally at the Supreme Court.(Photo/Courtesy Robin Cohen)
Women of Reform Judaism members (from left) Robin Cohen, Julia Weinstein, Julia Wackenheim and Deb Lelchuk at the May 21, 2019 "Ban the Bans" rally at the Supreme Court.(Photo/Courtesy Robin Cohen)

Local Jewish women’s groups are ready to fight for abortion

Linda Kurtz was at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco on May 2, watching Evgeny Kissin perform Bach and Mozart. She stepped out at intermission to check her phone and saw the news that the Supreme Court appeared poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I was sick,” Kurtz said.

Linda Kurtz
Linda Kurtz

Kurtz is board president of the San Francisco section of the National Council of Jewish Women, a national organization founded in 1893 that promotes civic engagement and advocates for social justice issues concerning women, including reproductive rights, gender discrimination and violence against women and girls.

Kurtz, a former rehabilitation counselor who worked for the state, as well as in clinics across the Bay Area, said she saw the toll that a lack of abortion access took on women and families, especially young or disabled mothers who could not support their families. When anti-abortion activists would protest outside clinics where she worked,  Kurtz would challenge them with questions about how they would support new mothers without resources, and never got answers.

She sees the same issue repeating itself today. “These people in power who vote against every single service that would make these families’ lives better … want to impose these draconian measures,” Kurtz said.

When Kurtz talks about abortion access, she speaks from her own experience. In 1974, when she was 28, her first pregnancy ended at 24 weeks in a “missed abortion,” a miscarriage where the fetal tissue does not pass out of the body. She had to go through labor to expel all of the dead tissue in order to avoid sepsis and possible death.

“As horrible as that personal situation was, I had no politicians in that hospital delivery room…to interfere with the medical practices,” Kurtz told J.

Kurtz has been involved with the NCJW since 1982, one of several Jewish women’s groups stepping up their fight for reproductive rights, a cause they embraced well before abortion was made legal in 1973.

Members of NCJW's San Francisco chapter at a Roe v Wade 40th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco in 2019. Holding banner (from left): Sandra Gordon, Linda Kurtz and Charlene Spielvogel.(Photo/Antonia Lavine)
Members of NCJW’s San Francisco section at a Roe v. Wade 40th anniversary celebration in San Francisco in 2013. Holding banner (from left): Sandra Gordon, Linda Kurtz and Charlene Spielvogel. (Photo/Antonia Lavine)

NCJW will be gathering for its annual conference in Washington, D.C., May 14-17. Called the Washington Institute, the event brings together activists from across the country to discuss abortion access, voting rights and other issues on the NCJW agenda.

This year, the conference will culminate at the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice on May 17 outside Congress. NCJW and the Women of Reform Judaism are two of the rally’s co-sponsors.

WRJ works to “empower women and communities through sisterhood, spirituality, and social justice,” according to its website. It was founded in 1913 to advocate for women and in 1935 released its first resolution in support of the free flow of information about “scientific contraceptive methods” — at the time, it was even illegal to disseminate birth control literature through the mail.

Julia Weinstein, a vice president in WRJ’s Pacific district, said access to birth control continues to make a significant difference in women’s lives.

Julia Weinstein
Julia Weinstein

“Being able to decide your own reproductive journey as a woman is tied to a woman’s success in the workplace, to her ability to have a job, to her economic well-being and that of her family,” Weinstein said in an interview.

Karen Goldberg, also a vice president in the Pacific district, said WRJ’s advocacy is specifically guided by Jewish precepts and ethics.

“We are actually a religious voice in support of abortion access,” she said.

WRJ released a joint statement with the Religious Action Center and Central Conference of American Rabbis condemning the court’s intention to overturn Roe and reaffirming their commitment to the fight for reproductive rights.

Both WRJ and NCJW support the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would create federal law enshrining the protections now offered by Roe. It passed in the House in September 2021 but failed in the Senate in February. In California, Assembly Bill 1666 would codify protections for abortion providers and patients.

On May 14, local members of both organizations will participate in “Bans Off Our Bodies” rallies, organized by Planned Parenthood across the country, including in Oakland and Sacramento.

Goldberg said she felt “shock” when the news of the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe v. Wade broke.

“It’s really overwhelming to think that a fundamental right, which has existed for almost five decades, is now just going to be erased with a stroke of a pen,” Goldberg said. “We need proactive policy that protects abortion beyond the court. We’ve really got to look now to legislation as a way to make abortion safe, legal and accessible everywhere.”

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.