Rabbi’s Corner: 50th Anniversary Of Roe v. Wade – Path Forward for Reproductive Rights

As a Reform Jew, this has been a difficult few months to be an American living in the United States. January 22nd this past week marks 50 years since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion. Unfortunately in June of 2022, this decision was overturned. For the first anniversary in 50 years without the protections of Roe, we need people – men and women – to take action to protect abortion access. This decision affects us all.

One of my areas of expertise is the area of “Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law.” This includes the topic of reproductive rights – including abortion. When it comes to reproductive rights, I am guided by Jewish tradition, which teaches that providing health care is not just an obligation for the patient and the doctor, but for the entire society as well. The early rabbis instruct that a physician’s job is to heal, and if they withhold medical care, it is as if they have shed blood.(Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 336:1). Regressive state laws that prevent physicians and other providers from providing health care is in direct opposition to this sacred duty.

As Jews, we learn in the Torah “lo tuchal l’hitaleym” (Deut 22:3) – You must not remain indifferent. The great medieval commentator and physician Rashi explains that this phrase really means “we must not hide ourselves, or cover our eyes or pretend we aren’t aware of injustices in our society” when see or hear something that is taking place. We must not – cannot – remain indifferent. As soon as we hear of something unjust, or see something, we are now obligated to act, to do something to make a difference to bring about positive change.

Tonight we celebrate the women of our congregation with our Sisterhood Shabbat. Sisterhood’s theme for tonight is “Our Commitment to Each Other.” Each one of us is connected to women in some way: mothers, sisters, wives, grandmothers, friends, aunts, nieces, acquaintances. Each of has a commitment to the women in our lives, to the women in our society to protect health and reproductive rights. (To clarify, Sisterhood is not focusing on reproductive rights this evening. I felt it important to write about it for this column on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade).

I urge you to respond to this important issue by:

  • Joining us in person tonight and being with us in solidarity and support.
  • Becoming aware of the breadth and depth of the issues surrounding reproductive rights and women’s health. It’s more than simply a matter of legalizing abortion: it’s about racial justice, poverty justice,  and includes so many other critical issues. I’m including below the responses from the Reform Movement leadership as the Supreme Court contemplated overturning this important decision:Women of Reform Judaism Executive Director Rabbi Marla Feldman, Religious Action Center Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner, and Central Conference of American Rabbis CEO Rabbi Hara Person issued the following statement:

Rabbi Hara Person:

All people deserve bodily autonomy and access to a full range of high-quality health care, including abortion care, free from barriers and stigma, regardless of who they are, their religious beliefs, their income, and where they live. We are proud that Jewish tradition regards abortion as essential health care, not only permitting the termination of pregnancy, but even requiring it when the life of the pregnant person is in danger. Restricting access to reproductive health care impedes the freedom of religion granted by the First Amendment, including a Jewish person’s ability to make decisions in accordance with their religious beliefs.

As people lose access to abortion across the country and our fundamental rights and moral agency are targeted, we will continue to provide support to our communities and broader U.S. community and continue the fight for all people to determine their own futures and lives.

Rabbi Marla Feldman:

The draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization outlines a grim reality for abortion rights. It is an affront to our fundamental right to make our own decisions for our bodies, lives, and futures. As Reform Jews, we will not stand idly by as our rights are taken away. We stand firm in our commitment to the fight for a just and compassionate world, where everyone is free to make decisions about their future no matter who they are or where they live.

If agreed to by a majority of Justices, this decision would have disastrous consequences, leaving tens of millions of people across the country without abortion care. People will be forced to travel across state lines to seek the care they need, and many who cannot travel – due to a lack of adequate financial resources, time off from work, or child care, for example – will be forced to carry their pregnancies against their will, putting their mental and physical health at risk. The impacts of this decision will fall hardest on those already facing discriminatory obstacles to health care and other human rights, including Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, undocumented people, and low-income people.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner:

We vehemently condemn the Court’s apparent willingness to overturn decades of precedent set forth by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This draft ruling upholding Mississippi’s 15-week ban would be an unconscionable rollback of fundamental rights and human dignity for all people in the United States. Abortion bans like Mississippi’s that are being introduced and signed into law across the country already are rooted in anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and other systems of oppression. This decision would not only decimate abortion access, but also explicitly threaten other fundamental rights we hold dear, including the LGBTQ+ rights affirmed by Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges.

It is clear we must continue to pursue actions outside the courts to protect each person’s fundamental rights to provide and receive abortion care, to marry whom we love, and to have full bodily autonomy through laws and federal protections, including the Women’s Health Protection Act, the EACH ACT, and the Equality Act.

For more information and for action steps, please see the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center Resource Guide


We hope to see you tonight.  Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel, Senior Rabbi
Temple Beth Sholom

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