A sign reads "Jews for Reproductive Justice" at a rally during the oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization at the U.S. Supreme Court, Dec. 1, 2021. (Photo/Ron Sachs-Courtesy NCJW)
A sign reads "Jews for Reproductive Justice" at a rally during the oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization at the U.S. Supreme Court, Dec. 1, 2021. (Photo/Ron Sachs-Courtesy NCJW)

Jewish donations to support reproductive rights groups are booming in ‘troubling, anxious time’ 

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When the Supreme Court ruled in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion, 87-year-old Barbara Meislin immediately called her grant adviser at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and started mapping out which reproductive-rights organizations she could support through philanthropy.

“We need to fight back,” the Marin County resident said.

Barbara Meislin
Barbara Meislin

For Meislin, that meant adding money to her Federation donor-advised fund — a managed account that lets her have a big say about which groups and causes will receive grants from those funds.

This summer, she focused on organizations supporting women’s rights and democracy itself. “I’m doing everything I know how and can [do] to help us survive,” she said.

Many local Jewish philanthropists say they feel the same way when it comes to defending women’s reproductive rights.

“It was sort of this steady march up with each threat over the Trump presidency, and now with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, [donors are] stepping it up again,” said Amy Lyons, executive director of the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation, a Jewish-driven entity focused on supporting community needs across the Bay Area.

Rebecca Randall
Rebecca Randall

At the Federation, according to Rebecca Randall, the agency’s managing director of philanthropy, donor-advised funds and supporting foundations granted $1.2 million in the name of reproductive rights from July 2021 through August 2022.

Since 2018, she added, more than 200 Federation donors and supporting foundations have given approximately $3.9 million to agencies that provide reproductive health care, protect abortion access and do other advocacy work around these causes. (By comparison, for the fiscal year ending in June 2016, the total given toward reproductive rights was only just above $250,000.)

“This is one of those issues that we knew our community as a whole cared about, even if they hadn’t necessarily started funding it in a big way,” Randall said.

In May, seeking to support reproductive rights in a more explicit way, the Federation developed a guide titled “Reproductive Rights Giving Opportunities.”

“The need for an abortion affects 1 in 4 women of reproductive age,” the guide begins, adding that 75 percent of abortion patients are low-income women who can’t use insurance for the procedure. “The Rabbis of the Talmud are clear,” it adds later, “Abortion is permitted, and in some cases required, for the health and safety of women.”

The guide lists agencies that the owners of donor-advised funds have recommended supporting, including the Abortion Care Network, two local branches of Planned Parenthood, Access Women’s Health Justice, Center for Reproductive Rights, the Guttmacher Institute, NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation and National Network of Abortion Funds. An update this summer added the National Council for Jewish Women, which has its own Jewish Fund for Abortion Access. (“Abortion access is a Jewish value — plain and simple,” its webpage states.)

The Rabbis of the Talmud are clear: Abortion is permitted, and in some cases required, for the health and safety of women.

Supporting reproductive rights is not the only hot issue these days, as there have been big jumps in other donor-advised giving at the Federation. In the fiscal year that ended in June 2022, for example, educational organizations were granted $23 million from Federation donors, a sizable increase of over $5 million from the previous fiscal year, according to Randall.

Meanwhile, the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation has doubled what it has granted to reproductive-rights groups over the last five years. Grantees include NARAL, Planned Parenthood and ACLU Northern California.

In July, the Goldmans added six $10,000 grants to smaller, grassroots organizations working toward the same goals, including Groundswell’s Catalyst Fund for Reproductive Services, which focuses on directing health resources to low-income women, women of color and transgender people. In August, the National Abortion Federation was added as a grantee.

Marcia and John Goldman (Photo/Steve Fisch)
Marcia and John Goldman (Photo/Steve Fisch)

In all, John and Marcia Goldman have donated $245,000 this year toward abortion access and women’s reproductive health care, according to Lyons.

Prompted by the Supreme Court ruling in June, the S.F.-based Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund awarded two rounds of emergency grants totaling $1 million to reproductive health and rights groups. These include Just the Pill, I Need an A.com, If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice and the Abortion Movement Fund. The extra funding came in addition to Lisa and Douglas’ annual award of approximately $1.4 million in grants in support of abortion access and delivery. (John and Douglas Goldman are brothers.)

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council is one of the Federation’s largest grantees and a major partner in advocacy for abortion access and activism around legislation tied to protecting reproductive freedom.

JCRC aggressively advocated for Assembly Bill 1666, introduced by Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of the East Bay and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June. It protects California abortion providers and their patients from civic actions brought by states where abortions are banned or significantly restricted.

Jessica Trubowitch
Jessica Trubowitch

Jessica Trubowitch, JCRC’s director of policy and partnerships, said that the rise in giving to Federation donor-advised funds “speaks to the concern that our community has for where abortion rights and access are right now” in many U.S. states.

Julia Abramson, JCRC’s community relations associate, added that the grant money from the Federation helps her mobilize and attract more volunteers to participate in abortion rights advocacy. She’s currently running a campaign for Proposition 1, the Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment, which will be on the California ballot in November.

The Federation’s support “really makes me happy and excited for what we can do in this Prop. 1 campaign, mobilizing our communities,” Abramson said. “So although it’s a very troubling and anxious time, it has me activated and hopeful.”

Meislin echoed Abramson’s feelings. She is encouraged by the growing philanthropy and political activism that has emerged since the landmark ruling in June that overturned Roe vs. Wade.

“I’m very concerned about the survival of our democracy right now,” she said. “I think we’re in very dire straits. Maybe things like this particular Supreme Court ruling have awakened people who would otherwise be half asleep.”

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund is a major supporter of J.

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Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.