By Dana Fleitman, Program Coordinator
Laiah remembers writing a report on Jewish perspectives on abortion in high school. “I talked to a rabbi who told me that the mother’s life always comes first, because she is a living being.” This was very impactful for her as a young Jew; “so much of what you hear in the abortion debate doesn’t value a woman’s life or a woman’s judgment. That rabbi’s perspective made me very proud of my Jewish heritage.”
She started participating in activism as early as middle school and feels that Judaism informed her commitment to social justice. Laiah has worked on a variety of issues, including HIV/AIDS and domestic violence. “I think Judaism teaches us to take care of our neighbors and that life in this world is very important…As Jews, if we believe in the value of the family and we believe in equality, then we must believe in legal and safe abortion,” says Laiah.
Laiah’s college internship with NARAL Pro-Choice America was eye-opening. “I was in the press office, and we were fielding calls from reporters all the time. The conversations around choice were shocking – I had been living in a bubble and thought we had all come beyond the issues being discussed.” Laiah feels that “my contributions to the cause were minimal, but what it left me with was powerful and led to my interest in domestic health issues as well as international issues.” Now, she’s pursuing a Masters in Public Health and focusing on maternal and child health both at home and abroad.
“From a public health perspective,” Laiah says, “it is important to preserve the right to safe and legal abortion because, when abortion access is restricted, we see negative outcomes for families and children, and women die.” She believes that the challenges of abortion access contribute to the rates of maternal mortality in the United States, as rates in the U.S. are higher than in other industrialized countries. “Women and families are equipped to make decisions on their own health – we trust them with many other important issues, and we need to add abortion to the list.”
She is frustrated by the divisiveness of abortion issues and the combative language of “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” “As young people, we can work to highlight the agreements that we have around abortion rather than the disagreements,” shares Laiah. “We can agree that we want healthy babies, healthy families and that abortion is a difficult decision.”
Laiah feels that preserving the right to abortion is urgent. Laiah vows, “my concern and passion for this issue will translate in my life and my career.”
Since our early days as B’nai B’rith Women, Jewish Women International (JWI) has fought to give women control over their bodies and over their lives – but forty years after Roe, our reproductive rights are far from guaranteed. Sign the pledge and commit to protecting choice!