Jews, allies turn out for abortion rights

A rally attendee holds a sign with the Hebrew phrase for “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is pictured. Photo by Alex Kruchik

Jewish supporters of abortion rights and allied congressional representatives staged a pro-choice rally Tuesday morning with the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop to protest the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“For too long, this country has allowed a small but loud group from the religious right to dominate the narrative around abortion and religion, claiming that abortion access is a violation of religious freedom,” Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, told the crowd.

Katz, whose group organized the rally, was one of a list of speakers who decried a return to the prohibition of abortion, a goal of Roe v. Wade’s opponents. She said as many as 36 million Americans could be “forced into pregnancy” after the overruling of Roe v. Wade.

According to reports, the rally was being organized even before a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito proposing to overturn the court’s Roe v. Wade decision was leaked on May 3.

Katz said that a ban on abortion contradicts Jewish law, which requires it when the life of a pregnant person is at risk.

“Now, more than ever, we need Jewish, moral leadership to speak out for reproductive health, rights and justice,” Katz said.

Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, an arm of the Reform movement, told the crowd about her great-grandmother, who had to have two “knitting needle” abortions on her kitchen table 100 years ago. Person said her great-grandmother survived, but that today’s safe options must be protected and accessible to all.

“I am here to say proudly that the Reform movement and Reform rabbis believe that abortion access is essential health care, a basic human right and a Jewish value,” Person said.

She added that banning abortion goes against “our most deeply held American values of religious liberty and equality,” and goes against the Jewish belief of prioritizing an “actual life over a potential life.”

Ori Soltes, a congregant at Temple Micah in Washington, was told WJW that there are 613 commandments in the Torah, and there is a “sea of rabbinic interpretation” as to what those commandments mean.

“Our understanding, our interpretation of what divine commandments, divine compassion and divine law are about is to include the right of every human to have control over what he or she does with his or her body,” Soltes said.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) promised the crowd that America “will not go back” to a time before abortion rights existed. Chu, who is the author of The Woman’s Health Protection Act, said that the House of Representatives passed a bill to enshrine abortion rights into federal law in 2021.  It passed 218 to 211 — the most pro-abortion bill passed by the House in the history of Congress.

Even though it is widely expected that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, Chu said she will not give up.

“It is the beginning of the march toward the November elections, where we will elect leaders who will guarantee the freedom of every woman in this country and every state of this country to make decisions about her own body,” she said.

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