By Dana Fleitman, Program Coordinator
There are many young Jewish women working for positive social change. This month, in honor of Roe w Wade’s 40th anniversary, we introduced you to Rachel, Laiah, Michelle and Esther, who are all committed to reproductive justice. Please meet the final activist we’re profiling this month – Vanessa Prell.
Vanessa Prell, 28, never sleeps in late on Saturdays. “I usually alternate Saturdays — so one Saturday, I go to volunteer at the clinic, and the next week I’ll go to synagogue.”
Vanessa is a volunteer with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force, a group that helps patients safely enter women’s health centers. “We wear bright orange shirts that say ‘pro-choice clinic escort’ and help folks access the building. There are usually protestors, and there are always several who are very aggressive.” She feels this service is important, as “it’s really hurtful that someone who doesn’t know anything about a person’s life can try to insert themselves into that person’s choice, especially when it’s something that has been agonized over and given serious thought.”
Vanessa has been a pro-choice advocate since her teen years. “Two of my best friends were raped in their early teens and sought abortions…and it made my heart hurt to see that they felt so ashamed about it. I wanted to do whatever I could.” She got involved in feminist organizing in college at UC Santa Barbara, especially working on rape prevention.
Vanessa describes herself as a religious Jew and feels that members of her progressive LGBTQ congregation strongly support her activism. “Because I wear a kippah, protestors often target me and try to have legal arguments with me and convince me that Jews don’t believe in abortion, which I don’t think is true. Jewish law doesn’t lay out abortion access the way we have it now, but I don’t feel tension over that…Judaism is a religion with a lot of compassion.”
She feels that it is important to remember that reproductive choice is only one aspect of a woman’s health. “Sometimes I feel like the pro-choice movement – and definitely the anti-choice movement – talk about abortion like it defines people’s lives. It’s really important that we can talk openly about abortion, but it’s only one part of women’s lives and women’s health.”
Vanessa feels that the right to safe and legal abortion is under threat. “There are people who wake up every morning and say, ‘what am I going to do to make sure there is no more abortion, or no more birth control, in this country?’ They don’t think about what that really means for women. There are people every day who are trying to make our world smaller. We have to wake up in the morning and think of ways to push back.”
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!