No zero sum

Rallying the Jewish community for abortion access

In Short

How the National Council of Jewish Women prepared for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and plans to address changes to reproductive health care going forward

This time last year, the overturning of Roe v. Wade was beginning to send reverberations through the United States, with reproductive freedom and abortion access hitting the national headlines.

The decision was shocking, but we had been planning for this moment for years. National Council of Jewish Women began discussing this exact scenario twenty years ago, and in 2021, we accelerated our response strategy.

We were able to quickly launch the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access almost immediately after the draft opinion of the Supreme Court was leaked — deploying a vehicle for the Jewish community to respond together and make a positive impact during a time of chaos and loss.

And over the past year, as states across the country restricted or banned abortion altogether, we raised more than $1.5 million to help over 10,000 people receive reproductive health care. Along the way, we connected with more than two thousand new donors we might not have otherwise engaged, broadening our philanthropic base.

So how and why did we leverage the NCJW network to raise money for the express purpose of giving it away, while bringing the Jewish community into the work most needed?

The process started all the way back in 2020 by talking to our reproductive justice organizational partners. They were clear about the most effective way to show up: financially support abortion care. They told us to give to abortion funds and help people who were struggling to navigate the American health care system and laws that changed from state to state.

Without the protections of Roe, it was time to act, providing an outlet for the Jewish community to collectively help those most impacted by abortion bans and onerous hurdles to access care as the legal landscape would shift rapidly. 

Ahead of our launch, we identified the National Abortion Federation as the organization ready to partner with us, as they had the physical and legal infrastructure ready to immediately connect those most impacted by abortion bans with the emergency resources they need to receive reproductive health care.

We’ve seen other organizations develop this kind of partnership in response to crisis (think: giving to organizations on the ground in Ukraine) in order to directly reach the people most impacted . This model was new for us at NCJW, but we quickly understood such a partnership was critical. And we were successful — this fund was called “the largest and best-publicized recent faith-best effort to support abortion access” by Inside Philanthropy.

So what have we learned from the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access that can inform other crisis responses?

  1. Money matters. Getting resources to the people who need them most can make an immediate difference. We learned our greatest value-add in the fight for reproductive justice was to provide money to those most intensely affected by abortion bans — people struggling to make ends meet, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities, immigrants, young people, disabled people and folks in rural communities.
  2. We are stronger together. Our success was driven by finding the right institution to use our money most effectively in helping those most impacted by abortion bans.
  3. Grassroots efforts drive communal change. The first $1 million we raised for the fund was driven by more than 3,800 donors, 90% of whom made gifts between $3 and $250. A number of donors also organized creative fundraisers, raising thousands of dollars from their congregations and local communities for the cause.
  4. Laying the groundwork matters. We took the time to reach out to existing and new partners in the reproductive justice space to find the most constructive actions for our organization to take — and people trusted us for it. Our advocates were willing to give to the Jewish Fund because they knew we were taking a balanced, researched approach.
  5. Fundraising in crisis for another entity doesn’t impact your bottom line. Not only did we not lose $1 million dollars last year as a result of this, but our supporters understood this was a way to help right away. People didn’t lower their gifts to NCJW, and if anything, it increased the amount of people in our network by bringing more than 2,500 new donors to the organization.

We launched the Jewish Fund as a new vehicle for the Jewish community to face this ongoing crisis and erosion of civil rights with a sustained commitment of direct support. Guided by the Torah’s commandment to care for the widow, orphan and stranger alike, the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access has entered its second phase. The Jewish Fund continues to directly fund reproductive health care, and also now fuels NCJW’s distinctively Jewish work to mobilize for abortion access and an emergency fund for nimble and flexible response to urgent needs, potentially including supporting families navigating restrictions on in-vitro fertilization, rapid response to court-imposed medication bans and more.

We know this is only the beginning of attacks on our bodily autonomy. With cases in courts around the country and state legislatures aiming to restrict abortion access in every possible way, we are engaged in a generational effort to secure our reproductive freedom. We cannot allow the urgency to fade. This is not the Jewish way; ours is a history of seeing a need and meeting it regardless of whether we can solve the problem. It has been nearly a year since we lost the federal right to abortion, and we are just getting started. Now more than ever, the Jewish community must give for abortion access.

Glenn Northern and Shira Zemel are co-directors of the Jews for Abortion Access campaign at the National Council of Jewish Women.