The Jewish Imperative to Defend Reproductive Rights
On October 26, the week before the 2020 presidential election, Senate Republicans confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Besides the remarkable hypocrisy of the confirmation, rushed through just before an election only four years after Senate Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Court precisely because of the proximity to the 2016 election, the confirmation of Justice Barrett has renewed fears among reproductive rights advocates that the Court may soon roll back protections for abortion and access to contraception, including the landmark 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court, supporters of reproductive rights are bracing for a harmful change in judicial doctrine.
Following Justice Barrett’s confirmation, Jews for a Secular Democracy (JFASD) hosted a webinar the evening of October 27 with two experts on defending reproductive rights, Shannon Russell, Legislative Counsel for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), and Scott Ruskay-Kidd, Senior Staff Attorney for Judicial Strategy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. In an enthralling conversation with JFASD staff and supporters, Russell and Ruskay-Kidd explained the newly amplified threats to reproductive rights and the actions that advocates can take to help defend these rights. According to Russell, in the absence of a Supreme Court that will uphold constitutional protections for access to abortion and contraceptives, it is crucial that Congress enact legislation to do the same. Two petitions from NCJW call on Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and the EACH Woman Act to preserve abortion and contraception access, and allow women to make healthcare decisions for themselves.
JFASD has also been circulating a petition throughout the Jewish community directed at Senate leaders for American Jews to declare their unwavering support of reproductive rights. Data from the Pew Research Center indicates that an overwhelming 83% of American Jews are pro-choice, and as our friends at NCJW put it: “Judaism permits abortion. Full stop. The Constitution gives us the right to have abortions. Full stop.” This principle has been affirmed by leaders across the Jewish community including the Society for Humanistic Judaism, which passed a resolution recognizing reproductive rights as a fundamental human right in 1996, declaring that “a woman has the moral right and should have the continuing legal right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy in accordance with her own ethical standards.”
Beyond our Jewish beliefs, protecting access to abortion and contraception is also a matter of protecting the separation of religion and government. Government efforts to restrict abortion are introduced by legislators with a specific religious agenda and backed by Christian supremacist groups seeking to enshrine personal religious beliefs into law. As proponents of our constitutional secular government, we must firmly oppose legislation that would impose any particular religious doctrine and infringe the rights of others.
Now more than ever, in the shadow of Justice Barrett’s confirmation and the looming risk to reproductive protections, it is incumbent upon pro-choice American Jews to take action to defend a women’s right to choose, not solely as Jews, but also as believers in secular government. By joining the efforts of JFASD and allied organizations, we can keep pressure on lawmakers and each do our part to protect reproductive rights during increasingly uncertain times.