Protecting Women's Reproductive Health Care

JSPAN Newsletter - May 20, 2011

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:
Newsletter: May 20, 2011
Hold the Date
Hold Thursday evening, June 16, 2011, to hear Joe Sestak, previously Congressman from Delaware County, before that a vice-Admiral, and an ultimate insider, at the JSPAN 2011 Annual Meeting.


Action Item: Protecting Women's Reproductive Health Care
By Audrey Ann Ross, JSPAN Board Member

Women’s health is under attack here in Pennsylvania and on the federal level. Here, in response to the tragic events that took place at Kermit Gosnell’s office in Philadelphia and his subsequent indictment, the Pennsylvania legislature has introduced multiple bills aimed at further regulating abortion providers. Abortion providers are already regulated under a number of different laws in Pennsylvania and undergo inspections by the Department of Health.

House Bill 574, which passed out of the PA House last week and now moves to the PA Senate, would force free-standing abortion providers to be regulated under Ambulatory Surgical Facility regulations – potentially causing the price of a procedure to skyrocket or even forcing providers to close their doors.

Unfortunately, rather than deterring providers like Gosnell who were acting unlawfully, or protecting women and ensuring patient safety, House Bill 574 bill threatens providers who are acting within the law and providing safe abortion care to women throughout the state.

Senate Bill 732 is also moving with a potential vote next week. Sponsored by Senator Pat Vance, this bill would alter the inspection process currently in place and establish a complaint system. This bill is certainly the better of the two.

On a different but very relevant note, Senate Bill 3, unrelated to the Gosnell indictment, may come up for a full Senate vote next week. It would ban abortion coverage in the yet-to-be established state health insurance exchange, forcing women to pay out of pocket for an abortion. Luckily, two supportive Senators are offering amendments that would add a health exception and ensure that the bill complies with federal law.

Since it is expected that these bills will be heard in the Senate as early as next week, it is time for constituents to weigh in by voicing their concerns through calls to State Senators and letters to the editor.

To protect women’s health, constituents should urge their Senators to:

  • Vote YES on Senate Bill 732 with no amendments
  • Vote NO on Senate Bill 3 as is, but vote YES on the McIlhinney health exception amendment and the Earll federal law compliance amendment on Senate Bill 3.

On the federal level, in early May, the US House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 3, “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” Following the House vote, Senator Wicker of Mississippi introduced S. 906, the Senate companion bill to H.R. 3. The bills would enforce tax penalties on women and small businesses for subscribing to or providing insurance plans that cover abortion. It would apply to public and private insurance plans.

While President Obama has promised to veto H.R. 3 (and S. 906 is identical), it is still important to urge Senators Casey and Toomey to vote against S. 906 and to protect the full range of comprehensive women’s health care. "Congress is on recess, so visit your representatives' local offices or call in to express your distaste with S. 906.

With attacks on both the state and federal levels, it is more important than ever to take action to protect women’s health and safeguard a women’s right to choose.


Celebrating Yom Ha’atzma’ut
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union of Reform Judaism

[T]he Jewish state is a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving. It has restored the Jewish people to national sovereignty after 2000 years. It has returned us to history. And it has given our embattled people the means to control our destiny. This involves - let's be clear - exercising power, mastering the gun, and sometimes, tragically, misusing power. But it is far better to have power than to be powerless in a dangerous world, because in the absence of power, all other Jewish values can be turned to dust.

My concerns about Israel do not disappear on Independence Day. Not for a second. While Palestinian rejectionism is the primary reason that there is no peace, it is not the only reason. I know that without dignity for Palestinians, there will be no dignity for Israelis. I know that by persisting in the building of settlements, Israel is endangering her democratic character. And I know that when Israelis leave religious affairs in the hands of the chief rabbinate, they are guilty of a giant failure of imagination; only by creating a religious "free market" will the creative genius of the Jewish people be able to thrive in the Jewish state.

While these concerns are weighty and remain with us always, I see Yom Ha'atzma'ut as a day to proclaim our love for Israel and to celebrate Israel's achievements. … I believe that Israel is a good country in a bad neighborhood and that her cause is just. I believe in the totality and the interdependence of the Jewish people, and that in the absence of Israel, Jewish life is truncated and incomplete.


[read more]


Standing Firm Against Terrorism
JSPAN joined in the following letter from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to President Obama dealing with the death of Osama bin Laden

We, the Jewish people, have just observed Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a time not just for Jews, but for all people to remember and reflect on how blind hatred gives rise to a shattering violence and separates us from our humanity.

On Sunday night, May 1st, President Obama announced that one of the most odious modern purveyors of that hate, Osama bin Laden, has been removed from the world. He not only masterminded the deaths of thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001, but he continued to lead the machinery of terror and death in the ensuing years. Today, America, the world, and particularly the families of bin Laden’s thousands of victims can breathe more easily. Bin Laden, a man who demonstrated utter contempt for human life, will no longer be able to bring about the deaths of innocents in the name of his cause. As President Obama said: ‘Justice has been done!’

We must stand united and firm in the face of wanton terrorist violence. We must recommit ourselves to confronting those who breed intolerance and cultivate hatred. And so we ask you to join us in expressing appreciation to President Obama, to former President George W. Bush for efforts undertaken during his administration, to the members of our country’s armed services and security agencies, and to all those who--often at great personal risk and loss--continue to stand up against these threats in order to protect life and pursue justice.



JSPAN Joins Coalition to Fight for Redistricting Reform
At its board meeting on May 9 JSPAN joined a coalition of organizations seeking to hold a redistricting contest in Pennsylvania. All state Congressional districts are being redrawn, coast-to-coast, along with state legislative districts and city wards. Citizens who wish to propose redistricting plans face serious difficulties, however: without an adequate computer program, mapping districts that meet legal requirements can be all but impossible.

In several other states this problem has been addressed by private entities raising the funds to make a suitable computer program available. In order to generate interest, these private groups are offering prizes for the best redistricting plans submitted by citizens.

JSPAN has pledged its support and a donation to such a project being initiated for Pennsylvania by Dan Loeb, publisher of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Ask your civic organization to join us in this effort!

See the testimony of Dan Loeb to the joint hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Committee and State House Committee on State Government regarding Congressional redistricting:


[read more]


Jeffrey Albert Testifies for JSPAN at Pennsylvania Bar Association
The Pennsylvania Bar Association Constitutional Review Commission concluded hearings across the state earlier this month on a number of topics including the need for reform of the manner in which election districts are drawn (colloquially, the "gerrymander"). JSPAN was there.

Jeffrey Albert, Esq., testified and submitted a paper drafted jointly with JSPAN Vice President Ken Myers, urging that the present method lacks checks and balances, and requires more opportunity for public input and oversight and closer judicial supervision. Otherwise, instead of fairly drawn, compact and contiguous election districts, we will continue to have uncompetitive sprawling election districts that assure thee reelection of incumbent legislators and their political parties.

Albert is one of a few Pennsylvania lawyers with experience in the decennial redistricting process. He litigated against the present election districts established in the last decennial reapportionment, culminating in a legal argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2002. Members of the PBA Review Commission present at the recent hearing listened attentively and engaged in serious discussion of methods to improve our redistricting process in the current year.

To read JSPAN’s paper on redistricting submitted to the PBA, click here.


Nationwide Threat to Halachah?
By Ken Myers

Those of You who read the Jewish Exponent may wonder what the front page story of the May 12 issue [ "Anti-Sharia Laws Stir Concerns that Halachah Could Be the Next"] is all about. "Conservative lawmakers across the United States trying to outlaw Sharia," says the story, suggesting some major anti-Muslim groundswell. What is happening?

In last Fall's election, the Oklahoma ballot carried a proposition to forbid state courts from considering either international or Sharia law. The proposition carried handily with 70% of the vote. But within days, a Muslim brought a challenge to the proposition and a federal district court enjoined enforcement of the proposition pending trial. There the matter remains today.

It is reported that the Oklahoma government lawyer assigned to defend the anti-Sharia proposition before the court could provide no example of any Oklahoma case in which a court applied Sharia law.

Judge Vicki Miles-Lagrange, Chief Judge of the Federal Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, ruled that freedom of worship and assembly and other fundamental constitutional rights cannot be subjected to a referendum vote, they are simply guaranteed to us. The Oklahoma ballot proposition, by singling out Sharia law, conveys an official government message of disapproval and hostility toward one set of religious beliefs, and sends a clear message that Muslems are outsiders.

So the one known instance of an attempt to adopt an anti-Sharia law stood for less than three weeks.

But how does any of this endanger Jewish Halachah? Occasionally civil courts are called on to enforce divorce decrees or other rulings of a Beit Din (Jewish religious court). If the anti-Sharia law was permitted to stand, one might postulate some future law seeking to preclude courts from enforcing decisions of.a Beit Din. Other possibilities are conjured up in the Exponent article:

“[A]s a general rule [anti-Halachah laws] could be interpreted broadly to prevent two Jewish litigants from going to a Beit Din … a terrible infringement on our religious freedom. A number of recent Beit Din arbitrations that were taken by litigants to civil courts -- on whether a batch of etrogs met kosher standards; on whether a teacher at a yeshiva was rightfully dismissed; and on the ownership of Torah scrolls -- would have no standing under the proposed laws.”

Going beyond Torah scrolls and etrogs, the Exponent sees danger for a New York State law requiring parties in a divorce to cut all ties - a law that protects divorced Jewish women from becoming agunot, chained to recalcitrant husbands who refuse to grant a religious divorce, or get. But this helpful New York law does not enforce a Biet din ruling, it cuts off a religious right, and so it would not be threatened by the possibility of anti-Sharia or Halachah legislation. Vigilance is the price of our constitutional rights and freedoms, and the JSPAN fights vigorously in court and through public education – not through scare tactics - to protect those rights.

To read the full Jewish Exponent article click here.


Record Numbers of Americans Receiving SNAP/Food Stamps
USA Today, May 11, 2011

One in seven Americans – 44 million, half of whom are children – now receive SNAP/Food Stamps, according to USDA. “This is a record number of Americans who are voluntarily seeking emergency food assistance,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, which administers 15 federal nutrition programs. “Not since the Great Depression has this kind of assistance been as urgently needed as now.” Still, many middle class families, struggling financially, aren’t aware they could be eligible. Only one-third of those eligible for a federal nutrition program are receiving the benefit, notes USDA. However, food insecurity numbers have been rising. The government defines its term “food insecurity” as an individual’s ability to access adequate amounts of nutritious food at times during the year. While some food insecure households are able to avoid actual hunger, they do so at a price. “Some are able to head off hunger by reducing the quality and variety of their diets,” said Mark Nord, a sociologist with USDA’s Economic Research Service.


[read more]


Book Review By Susan Myers
“To The End of The Land” by David Grossman

If you are going to read only one Israeli book this year, David Grossman's most recent accomplishment is the one you should choose. In striking, almost poetic prose, Grossman interweaves the personal, the political, and the historical to create a complex, nuanced picture of Israelis undergoing the stress of war and insecurity. The impact of these stresses on personal, domestic life is presented both directly and by implication.

Grossman creates an unforgettable heroine in Ora, tracing her life in Israel between 1967 and 2000. We experience both her self-absorption and her selflessness, as she matures from a teenager to the mother of two sons of army age. When her younger son, Ofer, has completed his military service, her relief is palpable. But Ofer volunteers to rejoin his unit when an outbreak of violence occurs, and his mother again faces the fear that the army “notifiers” will appear to deliver bad news.

To avoid this potential visit, Ora decides to leave her home and go on a long hike through northern Israel, a hike which she and Ofer had planned to do together. With her husband and older son out of the country, Ora persuades Avram, Ofer's father, to accompany her.

As they hike, descriptions of the land, the plants, the birds, the animals they encounter are presented in loving detail. And Ora uses this time to describe Ofer to Avram. Thus the domestic life of her family and of Avram's years of suffering come together, meshed in the sweep of the history through which they have lived. The author is particularly adept at describing Ora's emotions and the details of family life; the relationships between parents and children, and between the two sons, are written with eloquence and occasionally, humor.

Grossman's love of the land itself is almost palpable, and his concern for Israel's future permeates every page of the book. You can read the novel as an anti-war statement, as a beautiful, tragic story, as a history lesson, or as a love story. Its depth and complexity make all of this possible.


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JSPAN Officers
Brian Gralnick

Kenneth Fox
Vice President

Judah Labovitz
Vice President

Ruth Laibson
Vice President

Kenneth Myers
Vice President

Stephen Applebaum

Stewart Weintraub
Secretary & General Counsel

Susan Myers
Policy Centers Chair


Jeffrey Pasek, Chair
Alex Urevick
Susan Bolno
Adam Bonin
David S. Broida
Deanne Comer
Hon. Ruth Damsker
Marshall Dayan
William Epstein
Sarita Gocial
Paula Green
Margot Horwitz
Rhoda Indictor
Lazar Kleit
Rabbi Robert Layman
Richard I. Malkin
Theodore Mann
Mark Newman
Maureen Pelta
Adena Potok
Audrey Ann Ross
Randy Schulz
J. Sanford Schwartz
Daniel Segal
Burt Siegel
Marc Stier
Rabbi David Straus
Mike Weilbacher
Deborah Weinstein
Lynn Zeitlin
Jill Katz Zipin

Judah Labovitz
Ken Myers
Mark Newman

Ira Goldberg




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