Republicans in Congress remains fanatically devoted to their pointless, cruel, and (one hopes) ultimately futile mission of defunding and destroying Planned Parenthood and replacing it with (one assumes) some sort of gulag-type system for poor and pregnant women. In this new system, I imagine that those women who seek care will be punished for the sin of having female reproductive organs by being addressed only as “Uterus #24601” while being forcibly made to breed more disposable humans for the military-industrial complex. I’m furious, and I’m not the only one.
More and more private citizens have begun to step up their fight by making generous donations to ensure Planned Parenthood clinics can continue offering services to woman who need them—that is, in the event of such a political and social catastrophe. The latest philanthropists in this lengthening list are Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the phenomenally best-selling children’s books A Series of Unfortunate Events, and his wife, the writer and illustrator Lisa Brown (her Baby, Be Of Use series is always my go-to gift for expecting couples). They have just pledged to give $1 million to the embattled health organization.
It’s incredibly gratifying, given so much of the rhetoric on the right, to see two people so publicly affiliated with children affirm their support for reproductive rights. (Pro-choice people love kids too! They might even love them more, given the fact that they seem to care about what happens to them, and their mothers, after the initial period of gestation!) I would argue that the publicity around Handler and Brown’s donation is just as important because it introduces a new model of Jewish giving. Jewish tradition holds that the highest level of tzedakah is that done in anonymity: You don’t give in order to get credit or gratitude, or to see your name on the side of a building, the logic goes. You give because it’s the right thing to do. But in this polarized climate, where a pro-choice Facebook post can lead to death threats, I would argue that lending your name to something, no matter the personal consequences (and especially in the case of the Planned Parenthood funding battle) is a great gift.
Anti-choice and anti-women groups have exploited our societal stigmas against sex, abortion, and the female anatomy, while shaming their opponents into silence, for far too long. They rely on our reticence, our impulse to keep our personal lives private, to keep us from intruding on their agenda. But as long as women seeking services remain a faceless “other”, they can shape the debate.
So I want to say this with as much emphasis as I have ever said anything: There is nothing shameful about seeking to end a pregnancy. There is nothing shameful about having a mammogram or a pap smear or needing access to affordable birth control. These are issues of health. While in a perfect world they should concern no one other than the woman in question and her medical provider, perhaps privacy—or anonymity—is a luxury we can no longer afford. The time as come to let people know where you stand.
By making their donation so public, Handler and Brown are surely risking personal consequences, to themselves and their careers. But they aren’t only giving money; they’re giving of themselves. And that should be the greatest tzedakah of all.
Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.