Let’s not jeopardize crucial care for women

By Barbara Goldberg Goldman, Member of the NJDC Executive Committee and Chair of the NJDC Women's Leadership Network

The following originally appeared in Washington Jewish Week.

The health and well-being of the body, the Jewish scholar Maimonides teaches us, are “part of one’s service of God.” Judaism places a high value on health care, and we are commanded to take care of the sick, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

That’s why as Jews, we should see the attacks on Planned Parenthood — one of the most important organizations providing comprehensive, quality health care to millions of women — and moves to cut funding for it as particularly distressing.

The House last week passed legislation that would freeze all federal funding for Planned Parenthood for a year, greatly limiting women’s access to necessary health care, including breast cancer screening, birth control and prenatal care. If Congress cuts funding, likely resulting in the closing of Planned Parenthoods across the country, hundreds of thousands of people — as many as one-quarter of Planned Parenthood’s patients — would fully lose access to medical care.

Additionally, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill this week, which has already passed in the House, restricting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, taking away choice from pregnant women nationwide. As Jews, the Talmud teaches us that when a woman is pregnant, “it is self-evident that it is all her own body,” and 91 percent of American Jews — including 77 percent of Jewish Republicans – stand in firm agreement that a woman should have the right to choose, to make decisions about her own health and body. This legislation violates that right.

Millions of women rely on Planned Parenthood clinics — for breast and cervical cancer screenings, for teen pregnancy prevention, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and prenatal care. An estimated 20 percent of all women have relied on Planned Parenthood at some time in their lives. According to its most recent annual report, Planned Parenthood in 2013 provided 935,573 cancer screenings including breast exams and Pap tests; 1.1 million pregnancy tests and prenatal services; 4.5 million tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — for both men and women; and 3.6 million contraception-related services.

This crucial health care detected breast and cervical abnormalities in nearly 88,000 women, averted an estimated more than half-million unintended pregnancies and enabled 160,000 people to be treated for STIs and learn how to prevent their further spread. In just one clinic in Akron, Ohio, more than 13,000 STI screenings are done annually and, like other services, at a reduced cost, thanks to Medicaid reimbursement and Title X. The clinic, according to The Washington Post, is the only one in Akron to receive Title X.

Forty-one percent of funding for Planned Parenthood and its affiliated centers comes from government health service grants and reimbursements. The clinics could not survive without that funding, leaving millions of low-income people without access to affordable reproductive health care.

Many of those who oppose Planned Parenthood do so based on objections to abortion services — provided by a minority of its clinics. As Jewish women, though, we see the assault on abortion as an assault on our religious rights, which mandate that an abortion is warranted when a woman’s life and health are in danger.

Health care is not a partisan issue. Planned Parenthood, a health care provider, is not a partisan issue, and using it as such is not only is shameful, but it has real, lasting consequences, putting affordable health care out of the reach of many women.

We cannot allow these consequences to come to fruition. As Jews, we cannot sit idly by as the assault on women’s rights and health care continues, threatening a woman’s control over her body and quality health care for millions of Americans.

On Yom Kippur this week, we read the Unetanah tokef, chanting the lines, “Who shall live and who shall die,” and reminding us of the fragility of life. Let’s do what we can to keep millions of women healthy by ensuring that funding for Planned Parenthood continues.