On June 24, 2022, the National Council for Jewish Women (NCJW) issued the following statement:
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is a moral failure. It will put lives at risk. By overturning 50 years of precedent, safe and vital abortion care is now virtually inaccessible to millions of people who need it. In the weeks and months ahead, we will see the devastating impact this ruling will have on human lives. “
It did not take long for us to begin witnessing the chaos, fear, confusion, pain, and horrific repercussions predicted by NCJW in states across the country. In the decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court chose a radical approach. Rather than ruling specifically on the Dobbs v. Jackson Health case, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its wisdom, chose to overturn Roe v. Wade, causing an immediate public health emergency.
After learning about the Dobbs decision, and overturn of Roe v. Wade, my daughter called me and asked, “Mom, am I still a citizen?” The sad reality is that I truly did not know how to answer her. As a resident of Tennessee, she is about to be denied the fullness of her right to self-determination, personal freedom, and unobstructed access to healthcare in potentially life-threatening situations. How can you feel like a full citizen without these basic rights?
And while this attack on all people, including children, who can become pregnant, it is particularly crushing for Jewish women and girls since laws being promulgated in some states amount to a complete ban on abortion from the moment of conception with no exceptions. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance wrote the following about the ruling:
“The Supreme Court’s ruling, which overturns federal constitutional protections of privacy and abortion rights that have stood since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, will devastate the lives of women across the United States who will lose personal agency over their lives and bodies… it violates the religious liberty of the Jewish community by undermining women’s ability to follow halakha (traditional Jewish law), which permits and even requires, abortion in certain circumstances, particularly when the life or health of the woman is at stake.”
Jewish law provides basic guidelines for us. Abortion is not murder. Abortion is healthcare.
By August, Tennessee is scheduled to enact what will effectively be a total ban on abortion from the time of conception. NO. EXCEPTIONS. No exception for rape victims. No exception for incest victims. Only an “affirmative defense” clause for medical providers in the case of risk to the life of the mother based on convoluted legal and bureaucratic maneuvering which must be proven by “a preponderance of evidence.” If the state determines that the doctor performed the procedure without what the state deems as preponderance of evidence, the doctor will be charged with a Class C felony, carrying a possible sentence of 3-15 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. As we are already seeing, this “affirmative defense” has not protected doctors in other states from investigation and defamation.
And it is unclear how these abortion bans will affect medical training. Some fear that in states with bans, medical students will not receive training on how to perform end-of-pregnancy procedures. The treatment for a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy is abortion. A woman who suffers a spontaneous miscarriage during a wanted pregnancy may need an abortion. What happens when doctors are not trained to provide that treatment? Think about that.
Jewish law provides wisdom and guidance to assist us in balancing the competing needs of the life of the mother with the life of the fetus before birth. We invite you to join local Rabbis to study these texts, and to learn and struggle together in the first of three sessions to help deal with the new realities we face. After consulting Jewish law, upcoming sessions will include health care professionals and legal professionals:
August 11: Jewish Law and Abortion
September 15: Abortion is Healthcare
TBD: Tennessee Law and reproductive health
The Dobbs decision strikes at the heart of our privacy, agency, and religious freedom.
As I write this my hope is that by the time you read this our Tennessee elected officials will have taken heed from the tragedies we are witnessing in Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, and other states implementing total bans, turning access to healthcare into a criminal justice issue and determine that we can do better for the people in Tennessee.
In the coming months, we will support each other as we rise to protect the lives and health of women and girls in our community and our state. We will study our traditional texts and wisdom on the issue. We will listen to health care providers determined to provide urgently needed health care to patients. We will review current and proposed state law and determine the best approach to mitigate the authority being wielded exclusively by government legislators threatening criminal prosecution, and back to the hands of healthcare providers and patients more suited to making these critical and personal decisions.