Jewish support for abortion is being drowned out. We can change that

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday overturning a restrictive Louisiana abortion law is an important victory for supporters of reproductive rights, including the 83% of Jewish Americans who believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, one of the highest rates among all religious groups. While the ruling protects the status quo for abortion access in Louisiana and around the country by blocking this harmful restriction, the federal government and states nationwide are still pursuing other efforts to reduce abortion access through executive action, legislation and litigation.

The Jewish commitment to reproductive rights is more than an expression of progressive political values; from the Torah and Talmud to Maimonides, there is profound support within Jewish sacred texts and scholarly teachings for the right to abortion.

Unfortunately, our current discourse largely ignores the existence of a religious perspective in support of reproductive rights. In news articles covering the recent abortion ruling, conservative faith-based organizations were widely quoted with negative reactions, while the perspectives of faith groups (including Jewish organizations) who support the ruling were virtually absent. This is the result of a long-term, concerted effort by the Religious Right to make “religious” a synonym for “anti-abortion.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling marks a new beginning in the struggle for reproductive rights, not the end. If Jewish organizations and leaders do not speak up loudly and consistently for our beliefs and values in this area, we will continue to be drowned out by those who have wrongly claimed a monopoly on the moral, faith-based perspective when it comes to abortion.

There are several actions that Jewish leaders can take, collectively and within our individual communities and organizations, to show that religious belief is fully compatible with support for abortion rights. The first is to say clearly and unambiguously that we believe in protecting access to abortion and speak out against efforts by the federal and state governments to restrict that access. While many often portray abortion as a complex moral decision, the reality is that women who seek abortion are overwhelmingly certain about doing so, and those who do get abortions almost universally say years afterward that it was the right decision. We should be at least as confident and clear-eyed about supporting reproductive rights as the people seeking to exercise those rights.

Pushing back forcefully at every opportunity against the current widespread understanding of so-called “religious liberty” is also a must. In a case the Supreme Court is expected to rule on any day now, the Trump administration is seeking to allow employers to deny insurance coverage of birth control to their workers if they have a moral or religious objection to doing so. Jewish Americans understand that “religious liberty” should mean one’s freedom to practice their own religion as they see fit, not the right to impose religious beliefs onto other people. By rejecting this misguided definition of “religious liberty” and opposing efforts to restrict the reproductive freedom and physical safety of American women, we will make clear that the faith perspective on reproductive rights is not owned by the Religious Right.

But it’s not enough to just state these beliefs publicly during key moments like these Supreme Court decisions or when another harmful abortion restriction is enacted. We must proactively share them with others, to facilitate conversations about reproductive health, rights and justice within our congregations, organizations and communities. The National Council of Jewish Women has just launched Rabbis for Repro, a new campaign that encourages rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators to teach, write and speak out about reproductive rights and Judaism. I encourage all Jewish faith leaders and educators to join me in taking part in this campaign, which will help us shift from an on-and-off approach to supporting reproductive rights to making conversations about this issue a regular part of our lives.

Strong, vocal support for reproductive rights closely aligns with other issue areas that the Jewish community has prioritized, including racial justice. In part because of the ways in which racial injustice is bound up with greater levels of poverty and lack of access to preventive care, Black people in the United States have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than do white people. This means that restrictions on reproductive health care, including abortion access, disproportionately impact communities of color. As Jewish organizations and communities seek to continue building bridges and strengthening alliances with Black communities, a clear expression of support for reproductive rights and reproductive justice is essential.

Reproductive rights aren’t a niche issue or something that we can only focus on when it’s convenient or time-sensitive; these rights are central to the broader vision of social, racial and economic justice that so many Jewish Americans share. By making our support for reproductive rights a priority, we not only advance this vision, but we also redefine the narrow understanding of religious views on abortion that dominate the discussion. Let’s speak loudly and clearly, as one Jewish community, about our support for abortion access, today and every day.

About the Author
Rabbi Hara Person is the chief executive for the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the publisher of CCAR Press.
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