Sunday, May 11 is Mother’s Day this year. It is
the day that we all attempt to honor and respect the amazing woman who gave us
life, the woman who nourished, protected, and loved us. Of course, we should
thank our mothers daily, not simply one day a year. We need a world that
supports and respects safe and voluntary motherhood, not just with cards, fancy
dinners, and sentiment on one Sunday a year, but by respecting our rights every single day.
My incredible 92-year-old mother, Polly Bloom, died last
fall. I miss her love, devotion, joy, and feistiness more than words can say.
But what will never leave me are the life lessons she taught me. She modestly said
that she never really wanted the
flowers, perfume, body creams, and jewelry that I gave her over the years. What
she loved most was for me to be strong, do good in the world, and to keep
fighting for abortion rights, safe motherhood, and reproductive justice for all
She — as well as my beloved dad — were always so proud of my
work. As I near this first Mother’s Day without her, my body and soul are filled
with a tremendous emptiness. But Polly’s dedication and sacrifice have left me with
so much love and the belief that I could do whatever I chose and wanted in
Polly was an unusual woman for her time and, in many ways, although
a small woman, was larger than life. As a first generation American, she was
devoted to her family and friends and very proud of her Sephardic Jewish
heritage. For more than forty years, she volunteered at the Sephardic Skilled
Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn,
New York and won awards for her
years of commitment. She had a B.A. in Spanish literature from Brooklyn College, loved her first language
(Ladino), and nurtured her three children, her husband, and her community.
Moreover, she truly understood what equality and rights for
women meant. My mom was denied a therapeutic abortion (fetal demise had
occurred) in the early part of the 1950s and that scarring experience caused
her serious emotional and physical problems for many years. She was forced to
carry a dead fetus in her body for several months because of the oppressive
laws and sexist attitudes of that time. This
denial of her rights always stayed with her. My feisty mom was very supportive of the idea that no other woman should
ever have the same awful experience she had encountered desperately seeking
out safe medical care, respect, and dignity. Polly Bloom really understood
what reproductive justice was.
Mothers deserve — and need — reproductive justice. Reproductive
justice is about every woman’s freedom to choose to have children and to be
able to decide when and under what circumstances these children will be born.
It is about the right to quality, affordable, and accessible health care for a
safe pregnancy, delivery, and a healthy newborn.
Supporting a woman’s right to choose motherhood includes
respecting her choices, and providing her with the tools and resources she
needs to raise a healthy family. This means day care and family leave,
educational opportunities, meaningful employment and livable wages, gender
equality, an end to gender-based violence and ensuring a safe and hopeful future
for herself and her children. Tragically, in the richest nation in the world,
these resources are rapidly diminishing.
Reproductive justice is also the right to choose not to have
children, the right to contraceptive choices, the right to medically accurate
and comprehensive sexual education, and the right to end an unwanted pregnancy
with safe, legal, and affordable abortion care. It is about recognizing that safe
and respectful abortion care helps women choose their futures, become better
mothers, and build stronger families. It recognizes that women know what it
means to be pregnant, to give birth, and to start a family. Women know what it
means to continue or to end the potential life growing inside of their bodies
and to decide for their current or future families that it is — or is not — the
right time for a child to be brought into this world.
My dear mother was justifiably horrified at the international
maternal morbidity and mortality rates that we discussed. She hated the
short-sighted and regressive domestic and international policies of the Bush
administration. As she became older, she would increasingly say that she could not
understand why so many women and girls died from unsafe births and unsafe
abortions in our world. I told her I did not quite grasp it either.
Why do we allow 68,000 women and girls in the developing world
to die every year from the brutalities of botched abortions when compassiona and
safe medical procedures could easily preserve their lives and health? I don’t
know, dear mom. I am still trying to figure it out.
I know that if my inspiring mother was still alive, and if I
asked her what she would like for this Mother’s Day, she would again say, "Keep
doing a good job and keep women safe, honey."
What a wonderful way to honor all mothers throughout the
world — with rights and respect. My mom is now gone from this earth, but she will
always be in my heart. And I’ll continue to listen to my incredible mom and
make her proud of me.