Jewish Women International: A Legacy of Pro-Choice Activism

By Dana Fleitman, Program Coordinator

BBW Choice Rally“It’s going to be a long fight,” said Barbara Greenberg. “It’s not something that’s going to be resolved in the immediate future. It’s going to be a long time.”

This insight was shared over 20 years ago by a Jewish Women International (JWI) – then called B’nai B’rith Women (BBW) – activist speaking on the right to choose. JWI has a proud and rich history of pro-choice advocacy and continues to fight for reproductive freedom today. On this 40th Anniversary of Roe v Wade, JWI takes joy and pride in remembering the inspiring activism that our members have spearheaded over the years.

JWI Choice RallyIn 1968 —  five years before the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe vs. Wade — the delegates of our 1968 Convention passed a resolution calling for the liberalization of abortion laws. After Roe, the 1974 BBW International Convention adopted a platform stating “the right of a woman to plan her family through free choice must be guaranteed. Antiquated laws restricting family planning and contraception information, or forbidding abortions should be abolished.”

BBW continued to mobilize when Roe v. Wade was attacked. In 1989, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services upheld a Missouri law imposing restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, assisting with, or counseling on abortion. BBW women took action. BBW activist Paula Weinberger recalls, “We went out and marched…because it really affects us. It shows that the religious right has increased influence in public policy in this country, and where is that influence going to stop?”

A massive demonstration was held in Washington in November of 1989, and hundreds of B’nai B’rith Women members were among the estimated 300,000 people who marched for abortion rights. Showing solidarity, B’nai B’rith Women members marched in other cities across the nation – from Boca Raton to Kansas City to San Francisco. A 1990 article quotes Robin Winner, BBW’s Gateway Region President of Kansas city, recalling  “In terms of the Jewish community, we were the focal point…It was clear that BBW is a leader in the prochoice movement.”

In recent years, Jewish Women International (JWI) has upheld BBW’s legacy by fighting to protect women’s reproductive rights on a national scale. JWI leaders and activists have been vocal in their opposition to dangerous anti-choice legislation and efforts to undermine women’s reproductive health, from abortion services to contraception to family planning, in Congress. JWI leaders have also advocated for many key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law that will give women preventive services like contraception, well-woman visits and domestic violence screenings with no co-pays.

Today, JWI is committed to working with Congress and the Administration to ensure the access to comprehensive reproductive health services that will benefit millions of women and families across the country.  We know that it’s going to be a long fight, and it’s one we’re fighting every day.

Forty years after Roe, our reproductive rights are far from guaranteed. Sign the pledge and commit to protecting choice!

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