JACII founders: Brooke Bendix of Royal Oak, Michal Nodel of Birmingham and Ariella Raviv of Farmington Hills
JACII founders: Brooke Bendix of Royal Oak, Michal Nodel of Birmingham and Ariella Raviv of Farmington Hills

Discussing politics these days is never dry. But by bringing in stories of those directly affected by legislation, the Detroit chapter of Joint Action Committee II (JACII) looks to engage Jewish voters in their 20s and 30s from all parts of the political spectrum in political activism.

The group hosted an April 27 panel discussion “From Personal to Policy: Understanding Reproductive Rights.” The panel included an OB/GYN, a rabbi and a representative from Planned Parenthood.

First to speak were Jordan and Michal Nodel of Birmingham. Now the proud parents of a 1-year-old daughter, the Nodels in November 2014 discovered the fetus of their first child had severe abnormalities during a routine 20-week ultrasound. The baby was not expected to live long after birth, and the Nodels were faced with the anguishing decision to carry the baby to full term or terminate the pregnancy.

Their decision to end the pregnancy was met by the doctors not with guidance for the next steps, but with hesitancy and resistance, they said. Doctors instead talked about life expectancy and caring for the baby, waiting or taking a second look at the image of the fetus in the ultrasound or adoption options.

“What we witnessed was the cowering of doctors at this big hospital [Beaumont], who were once so supportive, but now seemed the victims of abortion politics on the medical practice,” Jordan said.

The Nodels terminated their pregnancy, but not after facing much legal red tape.

“This whole ordeal helped us frame why the need to fight for reproductive health is so important,” said Michal, who, with friends Brooke Bendix of Royal Oak and Ariella Raviv of Farmington Hills, helped found the JACII chapter following the 2016 presidential election.

Panelists spoke of the misinformation swirling around the political scene about reproductive rights. Democratic State Rep. Robert Wittenberg (Oak Park) and House Democratic Whip Jeremy Moss (Southfield) also spoke of the “alarming” pro-life pieces of legislation currently up for consideration.

“Abortion is still legal in the United States,” said OBGYN Dr. Renee Horowitz of Farmington Hills. When she attended medical school from 1976-1980, she, like her fellow medical students, received abortion training. Now, fewer doctors are trained, and fewer facilities in Michigan allow abortions to be conducted.

“Terms like ‘partial birth abortion’ are not medical terms, they are political ones,” Horowitz said. “We are no longer allowed to perform abortions in hospitals or outpatient offices. Planned Parenthood these days is one of the only places where women can go to have a safe, voluntary termination of their pregnancy.”

Amanda West, director of government relations at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, also expressed concern for ebbing women’s healthcare rights, though she did express optimism that not all state legislators want to remove reproductive health choices.

“Michigan was one of the very few states where Planned Parenthood did not come under investigation,” West said. “Not all Republicans want to take away a woman’s choice.”

Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel approached reproductive rights from a liberal, Reform Jewish standpoint.

“I am very proud how strongly the Reform movement supports reproductive rights,” she said, referring to an April 18 Central Conference of American Rabbis statement that censured the Trump administration’s targeting of Planned Parenthood.

The CCAR stated that it “strongly condemned President Donald Trump’s legislation that enables states to deny needy women the right to receive vital family planning and preventative healthcare services through Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers that also offer abortion care.”

Now and in ancient times, questions arose about the status of the fetus at various stages of pregnancy.

“Modern medicine has evolved in a way that it has created moral, legal and ethical dilemmas unimaginable to our ancient rabbis,” Kaluzny said.

“Our ancient texts tend to put the life and well-being of the mother above that of the fetus.

“Our tradition,” she says, “is also trying to evolve with modern medicine and ask difficult questions: If there is going to be psychological damage to the mother and the family if a baby is born with fetal abnormalities and will die shortly after birth, is [termination of pregnancy] something we need to do so that neither mother or baby suffer?

“These are never easy questions and there are no easy answers,” Kaluzny says, “but Judaism has much to teach us as we navigate these heartbreaking decisions.