Henry Wade is undoubtedly chuckling in the grave he’s been laying in for the last 20-some years. Wade, a former district attorney from Texas, had his name enshrined in history by being the defendant in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that the current Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently overturned. Individual states are now free to legislate and implement the restrictive policies related to abortions that Wade aggressively argued for. What impact the loss at the level of the nation’s highest court had on his career is subject to speculation, but anyone still around who backed him then obviously feels redeemed.
Not surprisingly, the reversal of Roe is not being quietly accepted. Demonstrations opposing the conservative court’s war on what is regarded by many as a basic right are already taking place, with planning obviously underway from the moment the leaked draft of the opinion was published in Politico. It’s not everyday that a major precedent is overturned, particularly one that has become a rallying cry for woman’s rights for nearly 50 years. SCOTUS undoubtedly was sensitive to the inevitable turbulence that would result from Justice Samuel Alito’s sharply worded statement on behalf of the majority. It’s not at all unreasonable to consider that the draft of the opinion that went viral several months ago was in fact intentionally and not inadvertently leaked. Perhaps the justices hoped that the reversal would be less volatilely accepted if it was released incrementally rather than in a single burst of thunder and lightning. More troubling, though, is that rather than promote unity within a country that has become very sorely divided, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has widened the gap even further.
In Israel, impact of the reversal of Roe vs. Wade are not being ignored by pundits, legal scholars and relevant subject matter experts, and local demonstrations against the decision are being scheduled. SCOTUS, of course, has no jurisdiction over the state of Israel, so the controversial reversal may be, for us here, academically interesting but legally pointless. While it may be true that SCOTUS opinions are studied in Israeli law schools, they are, for the most part, nothing more than footnotes as far as our judicial system is concerned.
From a conservative perspective, there is indeed much to applaud, since anti-abortion proponents can now point to this newly released precedent in the States as an example in support of abolishing any notion of unconditional abortions. Policy makers in Jerusalem, moreover, will most certainly be keeping an eye on the White House, which will undoubtedly be searching for ways to broaden a woman’s right to an abortion in those states that are either going to ban the procedure entirely or impose time-based restrictions; most experts in constitutional law, however, agree that there is little that President Biden can do. Although it would certainly shake things up, it is very unlikely that the current president will pull an Andrew Jackson ploy and ignore the court’s decision.
Here in Israel, judges, legislators and religious leaders are wading through the various considerations and precedents that govern the abortion process, so what Mr. Justice Roberts and the brethren decided is, for the most part, of little significance. Whether or not metal clothes hangers will start selling like hotcakes in the fifteen states that are expected to ban abortion remains to be seen, but the reversal of Roe vs. Wade will not be without consequences. In addition to opposing ruptures that will undoubtedly be formed throughout the religious infrastructure of the United States, it won’t be long before a supplemental decision will be issued on whether or not health insurers are required to pay the expenses for ailments and infections related to illegal abortions.
That Israel’s abortion protocol is currently in the process of being reformed (the buzz word of the soon to be ex-coalition) is all well and good, but one troubling aspect of the process will, it seems, go untouched. From what I’ve read and heard, it’s safe to assume that there will remain forty abortion approval committees spread out throughout the country, and a woman seeking to end a pregnancy will have the right to petition one committee after another until she gets APPROVED stamped on her application request. Official consent for an abortion is, it seems, based on a subjective evaluation, a flaw that cries for correction. I understand that applicants are reviewed individually and approvals and rejections are issued on a case-by-case basis, but it makes no sense that Committee A in Ramat Gan will reject an applicant while Committee B in Hadera will give a thumbs up to that same one. An objective review of the criteria is essential for the process – with or without revisions to the current system – to eliminate personal bias and ensure fairness for all applicants, regardless of residency, social status or ethnic background.
[Parenthetical sidenote: This is precisely what we can expect from the proposed reform to our kashruth system. A food establishment will be able to repeatedly request approval from one certifying agency after another until an authorizing mashgiach will finally agree that the defined standards have been met. In both abortions and kashruth, there shouldn’t be any room for the playing of games or the potential for corruption.]
Pro-lifers, in the meantime, may be coming across as diplomatically and politically correct, but the financial and emotional support for the care of a newborn infant they’re promising young mothers is nothing more than camouflage. They are sidestepping the compelling argument that forms the basis of the pro-choice platform: a woman has the right to determine for herself what goes on inside of her body as well as what comes out of it. What the pro-lifers are arguing – throughout the world as well as in Israel, by the way – is that a woman who undergoes an abortion for any reason other than those that are medically and religiously allowed is, in essence, committing feticide. I appreciate the reluctance to be so blunt, but a young, pregnant woman who is struggling with the decision of yes or no should be provided with honesty and not be swayed by having cribs and diapers dangled in front of her eyes.
The issue of abortion, to be sure, cannot be dismissed as either black or white. On the one hand there are those that argue that what constitutes a compelling reason for terminating a pregnancy and ending a living, human entity must involve something more than simply an aversion to middle of the night feedings. The opposite end of the spectrum is no less straightforward; religious leaders of all denominations who have little respect for woman’s rights should not be the sole arbiters of whether or not a pregnancy may be aborted. Justice Harry Blackmun, I’m sure, was convinced that his response in Roe vs. Wade would simplify rather than complicate the questions involving abortion. Justice Alito has ensured that the debate is again shaded in grey.
On a personal level I’ll leave to rabbis more learned than I to identify and define the parameters for determining eligibility for an abortion. What’s critical is that those parameters be applied uniformly and that applicants understand both the benefits and consequences of the decision they take.