When a friend of mine pointed out this article from the Washington Jewish Week to me a few days ago, I was surprised, because I had never heard about what it is written on. The article talks about an organization called In Shifra’s Arms, which was created in order to, in their words, “help you overcome obstacles to raising your child (parenting) or overcome obstacles to choosing loving adoptive parents to raise your child. We’re here to listen and serve.” The article explains that Erica Pelman created In Shifra’s Arms in order to help women get through a pregnancy who need support. It also includes a quote from vice-chair of the organization, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, saying how In Shifra’s Arms fills a gap that existed—churches often have signs outside of their buildings that say “Pregnant, need help?” as well as programs set up with crisis pregnancy centers for pregnant women looking for help, but synagogues do not.
And that’s when I started to feel a little uncomfortable: when it became a comparison to crisis pregnancy centers. The mission of In Shifra’s Arms sounded admirable at first—a lot of women really do need support to get them through a pregnancy, and the Jewish community is no exception. But crisis pregnancy centers are not simply places of support for pregnant women. As the article goes on to mention, crisis pregnancy centers have been criticized by pro-choice activists but also by many medical professionals for providing women with misleading information, refusing to assist women who want an abortion, and refusing to give referrals for places to get abortions. According to research done by NARAL Pro-Choice America, crisis pregnancy centers across Maryland consistently provide women with false information, such as telling them that abortions cause breast cancer and that abortions cause severe psychological issues. Many are staffed by badly trained and unqualified volunteers, and many use scare tactics (such as showing women videos of an abortion) to try to force women to keep their babies. While the study was performed only in Maryland, many of the crisis pregnancy centers are part of national networks.
The scary thing is that In Shifra’s Arms seems to fit much of the bill of a crisis pregnancy center. Firstly, Pelman received training from Birthright International, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers across the US and Canada. At least two of the crisis pregnancy centers investigated in the above NARAL study were Birthright centers, and although the study does not mention which centers had which problems, all centers were found out to give out misleading information to women—not a good sign. Pelman also says in the article that she would not assist a woman who wants to get an abortion, nor would she provide a referral for an abortion (except when a woman’s life is in danger, in which case she would provide a referral to a rabbi, but not a medical professional). The In Shifra’s Arms website paints abortion as extremely harmful to women’s health, citing various studies for support even though the American Psychological Association, among other major authorities on the issue have come out saying that there is no substantial evidence to show that abortion causes psychological issues among women any more than carrying out an unwanted pregnancy does. Quite a few traits that seem like those of a crisis pregnancy center.
So is this organization, like crisis pregnancy centers, trying to manipulate women into keeping their children? I do not know enough to say for sure, but I can say that there are some hints that it may not be trying to give women all the information that is out there to help them make their choices. And so people should be aware of that fact, and try to ensure that Jewish women do have other options than an organization that seems to be pushing an agenda other than simply helping women to come to their own decision.
It makes me sad to have to doubt this organization, because I think that there really is a need to help out women who want to raise a child but who might not have the resources; those women do deserve support and guidance. Women need to be able to make their own choices, and for many women that means keeping the child, and for many women that means having an abortion. But women deserve to make these choices based on true, factual information, and women deserve to make these choices without people pushing them towards what they believe. Because in the end, I believe that in order for people to be satisfied with the choice that they make, whichever choice that may be, they have to feel that it was theirs and that they were properly informed before they made it; the Jewish community, just like other communities, should strive to help them feel that way.