Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists protest alongside each other during a demonstration outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Kevin Dietsch-Getty Images)
Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists protest alongside each other during a demonstration outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Kevin Dietsch-Getty Images)

Banning abortion would attack our religious freedom as Jews

I had my first abortion when I was 16, the result of immaturity and a lack of comprehensive sex education at my suburban Detroit high school in the 1970s. I had another abortion in my early 40s, after my amniocentesis revealed troubling chromosomal abnormalities. It was a pregnancy that my husband and I had very much wanted. And yet, I do not regret either abortion, and I do not feel shame. On the contrary, I view them as medical procedures akin to any other legal, accessible, science-driven form of medical care.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court seems more likely than ever to take away our legal right to the medical care of a safe abortion. If the court overturns Roe v. Wade — the 1973 case that affirmed our constitutional right to abortion — 26 states are certain or highly likely to ban abortion outright. These statewide bans would disproportionately impact vulnerable people who do not have the economic means to travel to other states to access abortion care.

But banning access to abortion care doesn’t impact only low-income people. It is a direct attack on our religious freedom as Jews. Restrictive abortion laws are rooted in a Christian understanding that life begins at conception. This tenet is antithetical to Jewish faith. The Talmud teaches that life begins at the first breath — not at conception. Moreover, Jewish sources explicitly state that abortion is not only permitted but required if the pregnancy endangers the pregnant person’s physical or psychological health. Indeed, Judaism affirms that the pregnant person’s health and well-being always come before that of the fetus. Moreover, adhering to a Christian understanding of when life begins goes against the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees that no single religion should be enshrined into law or dictate public policy on any issue, including abortion.

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The case before the Supreme Court was a carefully orchestrated effort by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization with a $50 million annual budget to drive the Christian right agenda. The ADF is a religious army that writes model bills in concert with mission-aligned state lawmakers and funds any resulting legal cases. The ADF wrote the Mississippi law that is now before the Supreme Court, and it is the same organization driving a tsunami of anti-LGBT bills in states across the country. The ADF and its partner organizations, including the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation, believe the United States was ordained by God as a White Christian nation. Banning abortion care and limiting the rights of LGBT people are just the start of their ultimate goal of creating a White Christian nation in all forms.

To be sure, the Jewish community is not consonant. Jews who are anti-choice and those who don’t align with the LGBT movement may legitimately feel that these issues are out of sync with their values.

But this isn’t simply about abortion rights. That a medical procedure is up for political debate at the Supreme Court points to the underlying corrosive nature of the discussion. It’s hard to identify many other examples in which the government is allowed to restrict access to something that is demonstrably medically safe, and in many cases required to protect a person’s physical and/or emotional health.

What’s at stake isn’t just a right to choose, but all of our rights to determine for ourselves how to engage in our own faiths and to lead our best lives.

Debbie Findling

Debbie Findling, EdD, lives in San Francisco. She works in philanthropy, where she oversees the reproductive health and rights and Jewish community program areas for the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund.