Groups torn between Bushs pro-Israel, pro-life stance

WASHINGTON — The 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, marked Jan. 22, highlighted a dilemma faced by Jewish American organizations, many of which have historically made defending a woman's right to choose a top priority.

At a moment when supporting Israel has become their top cause, some groups have paid less attention to the Bush administration's anti-abortion agenda. And while fearful that the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade could be in jeopardy, some are reluctant to criticize the domestic agenda of the administration, which has been a strong backer of Israel.

"Our domestic agenda, in general the past two years, has often taken a lower profile than the Israel and overseas issues," said Reva Price, Washington representative of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs.

"Many in the Jewish community, many in our own organization, don't want to undermine the Bush administration at a time when the president is so supportive of Israel," added Lois Waldman, director of American Jewish Congress' Commission for Women's Equality.

Thousands of demonstrators opposed to abortion protested in Washington Jan. 22, taking part in vigils and other events, including the annual "March for Life." Bush was due to address the demonstrators, a core constituency of his, via satellite.

Pro-choice groups the night before the anniversary, meanwhile, hosted a dinner featuring Democratic presidential candidates.

The Israel dilemma aside, Jewish American pro-choice activists are deeply concerned about the future of women's reproductive rights.

"Today's story is not the anti-choice demonstrators on the Mall," said Sammie Moshenberg, director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women. "They are on the Mall every Roe v. Wade day. The story today is that reproductive rights are threatened in a way they have not been in a very long time."

Republicans, who control the House and the Senate and have a sympathetic ally in the White House, plan to pass a ban on late-term abortions and other legislation aimed at limiting the practice domestically, and hope to halt more funding for programs abroad that offer abortions.

There is anxiety among pro-choice groups, especially that Bush will stock federal appellate courts with judges who oppose abortion and also replace any retiring Supreme Court justices with those who believe Roe v. Wade should be reversed.

"Roe v. Wade is hanging by a 5-4 thread, so any vacancy endangers that very narrow support," Moshenberg said. The National Council of Jewish Women has launched its "Benchmark Campaign" to try to educate Americans about judges and "save Roe," she said.

"There is a sense of foreboding about the coming legislative year," AJC's Waldman said. "The president is committed to what he might call a 'pro-life,' we would call anti-abortion, agenda." In addition to trying to pass the so-called partial-birth abortion ban, Republican legislators hope to make it illegal for a minor to cross state lines to have an abortion if the state she resides in requires parental consent.

"We see that those who seek a return to the dark ages of self-induced and back-alley abortions — through legislation, court packing or anti-abortion violence — are gaining ground in their fight against the reproductive freedom and health of American women," said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center.

"The intrinsic Jewish belief in the sanctity of life is compatible with the strongly held belief in abortion as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances. The decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a personal one, which must be made by the woman on the basis of her own religious and moral criteria."