Pastry and Politics on Reproductive Rights

Since its founding in 1893, NCJW has worked steadfastly to bring reproductive freedom to women and their families. While we have seen much progress over the last 100 years, including the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling in 1972, in recent decades, and especially in the past few years, women’s fundamental rights to abortion and contraceptive health services have been attacked in a multitude of lawsuits and regulations across the country. On November 4 an audience of about 50 heard from three distinguished speakers about the history of reproductive freedom, the current state of reproductive health care services, and some specifics about what’s happening locally.

Our keynote speaker was Professor Michele Goodwin, who is the founder and director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at UC Irvine. She began our evening by sharing some historical perspective. She drew a line from how African-American women were demeaned and abused as slaves in this country to reproductive justice issues today. Abortion had been a common and legal tool of midwives for millennia, including under slavery. With the advent of the new science of Obstetrics & Gynecology, male doctors replaced midwives and stopped doing abortions, making them illegal. Roe v. Wade changed this, but in recent years new anti-abortion laws have multiplied across the country.


Professor Goodwin explained how these laws are being challenged in the courts, including in the Supreme Court. But with the recent additions to the Supreme Court, restrictive laws now have more chance of being upheld. While we are protected in California, obviously rulings at the Federal level can affect us. We must remain vigilant and involved.


Our next speaker was Betha Schnelle, the Chief Operating Officer of Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Betha explained that only 5% of the visits to their clinics last year were for abortion services, which helped the audience understand that Planned Parenthood provides primarily non-abortion, comprehensive health care services to women and men. While the rate of abortions is declining overall in the U.S., she explained that low income women and women of color are disproportionately represented among those seeking abortions.


Betha noted that between 2011 and 2017, 33 states have passed 480 laws restricting abortions. As a result, in certain parts of the country, women must travel long distances from their homes to the nearest abortion provider. In response, Planned Parenthood has developed an online national search tool for patients, enabling them to find a Planned Parenthood clinic near them. In addition, Planned Parenthood clinics in states where abortion access remains, such as California, are developing partnerships with clinics in states with restrictions. Additional funding will be needed to recruit, hire, and train new staff to support this effort.  Planned Parenthood is also coordinating logistical support for patients who may have to travel distances to receive abortion services. This could lead to a future opportunity for NCJW members to become “patient navigators” who help provide such support to traveling patients.


The Honorable Judge Lynne Riddle, a retired Federal judge, was our final speaker of the evening. She discussed the California Healthy Youth Act, which requires six hours of sex education instruction both in middle school and high school. While this law was passed in 2003, there are compliance problems in a number of school districts throughout the state. In addition, there has been a chorus of criticism expressed by fearful and angry parents at various local school board meetings.


Judge Riddle suggested that the audience discover how the law is being implemented in our local schools. And she encouraged us to support our local school boards in providing this important part of a child’s education. With more adequate sex education throughout our schools, teens will better understand their needs for comprehensive health care services, and perhaps the number of abortions will continue to decline. And this becomes yet another advocacy opportunity for NCJW members!

Note below from Judge Riddle: 

Dear Cynthia and Sherri --


I cannot believe that many days have passed since we participated together in your NCJW-LB meeting Monday evening.  


My mother would have been telling me that I should have written sooner -- and she'd have been right. Time just slipped away, and yet not any of that time was devoid of the warm feelings and gratitude I have for that lovely, glorious evening.  It's propelled me all week long.


I do regret the delay, but I am happy to be getting to it.


From the moment I first had a "sit-down" with you two (wow, October 2nd) I was filled with respect, joy, hope -- sisterhood.


Since Monday, nothing has changed - - - except that those feelings have only deepened.


It was such an honor and such a joy to participate on Monday evening.  Your group is just wonderful. I'm so happy that because of your kind invitation for dinner that I had the time and space to individually meet and greet so many of your dear members.  You -- all of you -- are an inspiration and a gift to me.


Please do pass on to your members my deepest thanks for their kind reception and generosity.  Their kindness meant everything to me.


It was one of the nicest evenings of my recent life.


Thank you.


Warmest regards,