What This Anti-Abortion Lawmaker Gets Wrong About Jewish Women and Sex

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Culture & Conversation Abortion

What This Anti-Abortion Lawmaker Gets Wrong About Jewish Women and Sex

Mia Brett

Absolutely everything.

Did you know that Jewish women have only one sexual partner in our lives, and that it protects us from cervical cancer? Neither did I!

Last week, Kentucky state Rep. Danny Bentley, a Republican and pharmacist, expounded on Jewish women’s sex lives and the purported historical link between the abortion pill and the Holocaust. During a floor debate last Wednesday on HB 3, an omnibus anti-abortion bill that includes medication abortion restrictions, Bentley claimed Jews developed the abortion pill mifepristone (formerly known as RU-486) during World War II to make money. He also claimed that mifepristone is the same as Zyklon B, a gas used to kill millions of Jews in concentration camps.

If you think that wasn’t bad enough, it gets much worse.

After one of his Democratic colleagues suggested that Jewish women be exempt from the restrictions on medication abortion on religious grounds, Bentley decided to explain Jewish women’s sexual habits and rates of cancer since, as he put it, “the Hebrew family” (as Bentley refers to Jews) had been brought up that day.

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“Did you know that a Jewish woman has less cancer of the cervix than any other race in this country or this world?” Bentley asked, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “And why is that? Because the Jewish women only have one sex partner … They don’t have multiple sex partners. To say that the Jewish people approve of this drug now is wrong.”

Reader, when I first read this I was speechless, which is an extremely rare occurrence.

Phew! Where to start? As a Jewish woman, let me be very clear: Jewishness is not a race, most Jewish women have more than one sex partner, and, statistically speaking, Jewish people support abortion rights. Even if we have only one sexual partner, most of us still support abortion. Hell, we might even need one! What we don’t need is a Kentucky Republican speaking for us.

Bentley’s history on medication abortion is nonsense he concocted to try to support comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust. French researchers developed mifepristone in the 1980s. Saying Jews developed the abortion pill to make money is pretty low-hanging fruit, as far as anti-Semitism goes. As for his claim that RU-486 is the same as Zyklon B, mifepristone obviously has absolutely nothing to do with a poisonous gas made in the 1920s and used to kill millions of Jews in concentration camps.

And as an aside: As a slutty Jewish girl, I’m pretty insulted by the claim that Jewish women don’t have multiple sex partners over the course of their lives. Moreover, there are many aspects of Judaism that are explicitly sex positive. Did you know that Jewish men have a duty to make their wives orgasm and enjoy sex? Or that kosher sex-toy shops exist? Religious acceptance of multiple partners varies based on the sect, but I assure you, we are not a prudish sort. Even the most common anti-Semitic stereotypes cast Jewish women as sexual temptresses (I’m obviously not condoning these stereotypes, but seriously—where did Bentley get his idea from?).

The more I think about Bentley’s bizarre claim regarding Jewish women’s sex lives, the more I think he once hit on a Jewish woman whose excuse to get away from him was to say Jewish women have only one sexual partner in their lives, and she had already used hers up. Presumably, he was so scarred by this experience that he never talked to another Jewish person again.

But back to Jews and abortion and Bentley’s regressive views on both. Bentley launched into his anti-Semitic diatribe that day because Kentucky state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian introduced a floor amendment to the omnibus bill that would exempt Jewish women from the proposed restrictions on medication abortion. Marzian rightly recognized that the Jewish faith does not believe life begins at conception. Instead, Judaism sees life beginning at first breath, which translates to whenever a baby breathes for the first time outside the womb. Additionally, Judaism requires that life be prioritized above all else, and since only the mother is alive until the fetus is born, most rabbis consider abortion to be necessary in some cases and allowable in many others.

Not only is Bentley’s claim that Jews don’t support abortion rights patently ridiculous (83 percent of Jews think abortion should be legal in all or most cases), but Marzian is also correct that anti-abortion laws often restrict Jewish religious freedom. How can we prioritize the health of the pregnant person if we can’t be assured access to later abortion? I’m thrilled Marzian raised this issue, and I hope we can have more Jewish challenges to anti-abortion laws.

Bentley’s “apology” later in the evening was wholly insufficient. He said he was sorry for any harm his comments caused, and that he should have been “more sensitive” with his comments. But he didn’t admit to the multiple falsehoods he espoused, nor did he specifically address any of his nonsense. He actually emphasized he was speaking to the history of the abortion pill as a pharmacist—that’s even more reason Bentley should have walked back his totally incorrect information about RU-486 and Zyklon B.

While I enjoy laughing at Bentley and the other bizarre things he said about sex and abortion, unfortunately, we have to take him seriously. The United States has a long history of equating abortion to the Holocaust. It’s a form of Holocaust denialism that minimizes the real harm done to victims of the Holocaust and appropriates the outrage to try and turn public opinion against reproductive rights. Bentley knew exactly what he was doing by invoking the horror of Zyklon B during that debate. I hope Marzian is successful in carving out a Jewish exemption to the bill—we need every tool we can get against anti-abortion politics in the United States.