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A Joyous Mother? Abortion Rights and Religion

I am not surprised by the new radicalism of the current US Supreme Court. For the last several decades the goal of the Federalists has been to get as many conservative Judges on the bench as they possibly could. And with the support of the Republican party that increasingly aligns with them they succeeded. Among the decisions the Supreme Court determined was that New York State could not prevent citizen’s from carrying guns in public. Police as well as local government officials are opposed for obvious reasons. The Court also decided at least two cases that limit the separations between church and state – religious schools are entitled to the same tuition assistance as public schools and leading religious prayer on public school grounds for students during an event is protected by the Constitution.

Several more right leaning decisions are expected in the next days including the possibility that the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to set guidelines for environmental safeguards to protect the ecosystem will be significantly reduced. However, the one decision most openly discussed and railed against is the decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, which now effectively allows States to ban all abortions. Already several states have announced that they are moving to restrict abortions even in cases of rape or threats to the mother’s health. Hinting at more to come members of the Court and their supporters have implied that there can be other similar decisions that may impact freedom and rights of individuals including the possibility to prevent purchasing contraception.

In America one of the most protected freedoms is the right to express oneself. I have no issue with individuals whose religious beliefs make them staunchly against abortions. In this very same America, however, imposing one’s religious beliefs on other’s was, at least in my lifetime, not allowed. Religious freedom is in fact protected by the constitution. But this is not what this article is about. It is also not about the Court’s hard right interpretation of the Constitution. It is about the mistaken position some of our religious organizations have taken in supporting the Court’s radicalization and anti-abortion stance.

When the Court published its 300 some odd page decision on abortion there was a robust response from a variety of organizations. The loudest came from those opposed to the decision. Fearing for the well being of mother’s many took to the streets, and continue to do so, to voice their displeasure with the decision.

In the last hour I met with a 15-year-old girl and her parents. The child was raped by a family member. She is pregnant. In New York State she can have an abortion. The decision is up to them, not the state. But I was thinking about those other children who were raped and will be forced to carry the child to term in all the states that have already or will shortly legislate that abortion is illegal.

The response to the Court’s decision on abortion also had me thinking about a book written by Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, Eim HaBanim Semeicha (A Joyous Mother). Rabbi Teichtal wrote the book during the Shoah hiding in Budapest, Hungary. Originally, Rav Teichtal was an anti-Zionist Chasid. In the book he makes it clear that being an anti-Zionist was a big mistake and he brings proofs galore from throughout shas all the while excoriating Agudat Israel specifically for promulgating anti-Zionism for what he believed were mistaken religious beliefs.

I am not able to comment on the Halachot of abortion except to say that there are a variety of opinions and I have been involved with many families over the years who have opted, with rabbinic assistance, to have an abortion. This is not about religious beliefs as such. What I am most troubled by is the resounding support some of our religious organizations have given to the anti-abortion position. I find it inexcusable and a profound error. Support of an ever-encroaching number of restrictions on religious beliefs and practice can only end in harm for the Jewish community in America. Taking a radical position which the clear majority of the citizens of the country, in poll after poll, believe to be a mistake displays a severe sense of short sightedness. The best position would have been to not take a position as other organizations have done. I am afraid for the well being of women. I am afraid for the direction the Supreme Court is taking to interpret the Constitution. I am most afraid for us when religious organizations take a position publicly that is not supported and perceived as radical.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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