‘After Shabbat, we will act’: American Jews prepare for wave of post-Roe activism

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An array of Jewish groups across the country are taking action to protest and potentially challenge the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that enshrined the right to abortion in the United States.

The 6-3 ruling released on Friday has many Jewish activists wondering how to respond to the explosive decision they find a major setback for women’s rights and, in some cases, a violation of Jewish religious law. .

The National Council of Jewish Women, a Jewish women’s rights group founded in 1893, said it would hold a virtual vigil on Friday afternoon before embarking on actions next week that would include forming Jewish groups on how to overcome challenges.

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“Today is a time of mourning,” said NCJW CEO Sheila Katz. “After Shabbat, we will act.”

The ruling also portends deep differences among Orthodox groups over how to operate in a post-Roe world. Haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America welcomed the decisionwhile the Orthodox Union stood by its statement from May, when a draft version of the ruling was leaked, saying the umbrella group could neither “mourn nor celebrate” the reversal of the 1973 ruling.

But most American Jews support abortion access, and Jewish groups have already moved to counter the ruling after the draft ruling leaked.

RELATED: What do Jews say about abortion? Your introduction as the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. wade

Katz said his group would initiate briefings for Jewish organizations on the ramifications of helping women seeking abortions, state by state.

“We cannot provide legal advice to organizations, but we can recommend that organizations seek legal advice, particularly if they are in states where abortion has been cancelled,” she said, making reference to a number of states that have enacted “trigger” bans. on abortion to take effect once the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. “In some of these states there are legal ramifications for trying to help someone get an abortion and everyone should know what that looks like in their state and how they are affected.”

The Women’s Rabbinic Network, a member of the Reform Movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, pledged in a statement to continue supporting women who seek abortions and those who provide the service.

“We fully support those who have sought and are seeking abortion care and will continue to advocate for a world where they can do so safely, wherever they are, without fear of reprisal,” he said. “We pray for the safety and well-being of abortion care providers and healthcare workers who will be forced to decide what they are willing to risk to serve their patients and communities in places where the Abortion is now illegal.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of the liberal rabbi activist group T’ruah, tweeted: “Remember when Roe v Wade came out the right refused to accept their loss. They have spent 50 years focusing on the loss. We must do the same in order to protect lives and bodily autonomy The road will be long, but we cannot give up or turn back.

While there is a broad Jewish religious objection to abortion in cases without serious cause, Jewish law prioritizes the life of the mother.

Some commentators have already noted how this could allow for Jewish challenges to state abortion bans that will quickly come into place. A Florida synagogue this month sued the state to prevent a new anti-abortion law from taking effect in July. The complaint is filed for religious discrimination.

A number of Orthodox groups and figures argue that liberal Jewish groups exaggerate the protections Jewish law provides for pregnant women. These groups argue that state laws with exemptions considering the life of the mother are adequate and that abortion under Roe v. Wade was made up, devalues ​​life.

The statement from Aguda, the umbrella group of Haredi Orthodox synagogues and organizations, wholeheartedly endorsed the Roe v. Wade as a celebration of life.

“Agudath Israel of America welcomes this historic development,” a statement read. “We pray that today’s decision will inspire all Americans to appreciate the moral magnitude of the abortion issue and embrace a culture that celebrates life.”

Yet even among the Orthodox there were differences and a degree of anxiety that the overthrow of Roe v. Wade could bring. Jewish scholars from all religious backgrounds agree that mental health should precipitate an exemption to abortion bans, although they disagree on what may constitute a mental health crisis. Not all states include a mental health exemption for pregnant women seeking an abortion, and at least one, Georgia, explicitly excludes it.

Some Orthodox scholars argue that rape triggers an exemption; a number of states also do not have a rape exemption.

“Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus, so that when the pregnancy seriously endangers the physical or mental health of the mother, an abortion may be permitted, or even compulsory, by halakha and should be available to all women, regardless of economic status,” the Orthodox Union said in its May statement.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said in an interview that states excluding mental health from the calculation of abortion, as Georgia does, would be cause for concern.

“Absolutely, when there are mental health issues that will impact the life of the mother, abortion should be allowed, “and, yes, in that case, we would be concerned about that,” he said. -he declares.

But he added that the court’s decision was an opportunity to consider the value of life in a number of areas.

“You know, there are definitely concerns,” he said. “But there may also be an opportunity here to move the discussion of life into a more responsible space.”

The NCJW was also planning a rally in Washington, DC, when Congress meets again after the summer; their rally in May drew more than a thousand protesters. Democrats said they would make the repeal of Roe v. Wade a problem during the midterm elections.

Katz also wants Jewish organizations to set an example by giving women reproductive leave that would accommodate the extended time it takes to get an abortion, Roe’s reversal. v Wade would trigger.

About a week after the ruling was leaked in May, the NCJW almost immediately entered into a partnership with the National Abortion Federation, which raises funds for women seeking abortions. This process is expected to become more costly in states where restrictive laws are set to go into effect requiring women who wish to have an abortion to take time off work and pay to travel where permitted.

The funds the NCJW raises for the National Abortion Federation “will help people across state lines, it will help fund abortions for people who can’t afford it,” Katz said.

Minutes after the court’s decision, the Council on Jewish Community Relations of Greater Washington said it was ready to help such actions: Maryland, one of the JCRC’s constituent states, has liberal laws on the abortion and is the closest state of a number of states that do not.

“We will work in coalition to ensure the state is ready to welcome and serve the thousands more women who will come to our state for treatment and to exercise their reproductive rights,” the JCRC said in a statement.

The Washington DC-area JCRC said it would push back against further restrictions on access to abortion in Virginia, and would lobby to prevent Congress, which has some degree of jurisdiction over the district of Columbia, to impose abortion restrictions on an extremely liberal population. who rejects such restrictions.

“We will also engage our local Jewish community at the grassroots level, connecting synagogues and individuals to meaningful opportunities to support women seeking abortions in our area,” the DC chapter statement said.

Such local initiatives may soon proliferate in Jewish communities. “We are outraged by this decision, which we believe does not represent the will of the people and is not in the best interest of the country,” said the Jewish Public Affairs Council, the umbrella body for Jewish groups. of public policy. PJC

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