Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


The Spirituality of Abortion

December 14, 2016
Posted by: Debbie Bamberger, Netivot Shalom Congregant

Bear a Torch – This week's torchbearer, Exhale, uses pro-voice approaches and tools to support women in sharing their personal abortion stories. Want to champion these beliefs and transform abortion stigma into respect? ACT NOW: Join the pro-voice movement and take the pledge on Exhale's Take Action page.


The Spirituality of Abortion by Debbie Bamberger

Last year, I published a story online revealing that I am an abortion provider and that I had two abortions in my twenties. Telling this story publicly required that I step off a precipice of fear and shame. Even those close to me didn’t know that I had had abortions. But I know how important it is to talk openly about abortion so that women who have abortions and the providers who do them can find acceptance and feel heard. I know that telling our stories is a powerful way we can disarm stigma and create support. As a Jewish woman, there was something else there about being an abortion provider as well, something profoundly spiritual.

Bringing together my dual identities of abortion provider and Jewish person was something I’d been thinking about for a while. Providing abortion care is one of the most moving experiences of my 22-year career as a women’s health nurse practitioner, and I often feel as though a magical light shines down on my patient and me when I provide a service that changes her life from one moment to the next. I had felt that my identity as a Jew was in a separate realm from my identity as a women’s health provider, but what was this spiritual fulfillment I felt when I was helping women? This was something I wanted to explore for myself.

I joined my synagogue’s social action committee and started a reproductive justice subcommittee. I hosted a screening of the film After Tiller, a documentary about four doctors who took over late-term abortion provision after the murder of Dr. George Tiller outside his church in Kansas. One of the doctors featured in the movie is a friend of mine, another Jewish abortion provider. She came to the screening, after which there was a panel with her, my rabbi, and several reproductive justice advocates. It was a rich, emotional, and nuanced discussion, particularly because some of the attendees had significant disabilities and were concerned about the possibility of future abortions being decided on selectively for less-than-perfect babies. The other doctor asked if my rabbi might consider meeting with her and me to talk more in depth about what Jewish texts have to say about abortion. You see, we have a friend who is a very outspoken Christian abortion provider, and he uses his religion to be able to speak to those who use their religion to oppose abortion. Along these lines, we hoped if we learned more about Judaism, we might feel more confident talking about abortion with people with strong religious identities. The conversation with the rabbi was enlivening. My next idea was to start a Kevah group (an at-home Jewish study group) for Jewish abortion providers. I didn’t know if it would interest other people, but I asked eighteen abortion providing Jewish friends, and they all said yes! We began meeting with an educator, my rabbi, Menachem Creditor, to look at traditional Jewish texts about abortion and discuss them. The group is called “Abortion as a Spiritual Practice,” and it has been tremendously enlightening and supportive for the members and the rabbi, because as we learn, our work becomes even more meaningful. Our most interesting discoveries have been that nowhere in the Torah does it say abortion is wrong, and the Jewish idea of ensoulment does not happen for embryos, fetuses or even live babies in the period immediately after birth.

One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. When we don’t talk about our experiences because of shame and stigma, we lose the chance to connect with one another and feel heard, loved and accepted. Talking about the issues of reproductive justice in my synagogue is one way of trying to change the conversation. Another way has been to tell my own story. The story was published in a collection of reproductive life stories called Untold Stories: Life, Love and Reproduction, and it was republished online by Refinery 29 last year for Roe v Wade’s anniversary. I was going to publish it anonymously at first, for fear of backlash or danger to myself and my family, but my husband supported my using my real name. He reminded me that I have nothing to be ashamed of and much to be proud of. So far, so good.

Debbie is a congregant at Netivot Shalom in Berkeley and started a Kevah group for Jewish abortion providers. Read more of her writing here.

Torchbearer: Exhale

This week's Torchbearer, Exhale, is the nation’s premiere organization addressing the emotional health and wellbeing of women and men after abortion. Using pro-voice approaches and tools to support women like Debbie, the group works to create space for women – and men – to share their personal abortion stories. A community-led organization, Exhale is at the forefront of creating the cultural and attitudinal shift that JCRC sees as critical to assure that the issue of reproductive choice and abortion is treated with the utmost sensitivity and dignity. In our consensus statement, “JCRC Guidelines on Reproductive Rights,” we strongly affirm the right of every woman to be able to make that decision without the imposition of the government or any other party.

Additional Resources

Where to learn and take action:

Where to hear ethical storytelling and find tools for heathy dialogue:

  • Living Room Conversations invites people with differing perspectives to come together for meaningful conversations that can create connections and build empathy.
  • If you're seeking tools for deep listening and sharing your story, The StoryCenter offers online workshops and other tools for authentic storytelling. 
  • Presenting compelling personal stories through themes and music, Snap Judgement is a radio show and podcast distributed through NPR. 
  • For awkward conversations, tune into W. Kamau Bell's KAMAU RIGHT NOW!, a live radio and social media event that transforms the political and cultural conversation of the moment into what Kamau calls "a three-ring circus of relevance."
  • Interviews discussing things we think about a lot, but don't always discuss openly, Death, Sex, and Money is a podcast sharing personal stories from real people.

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