As Jewish clergy leaders from across the United States representing all major denominations of Judaism, we write to express our strong and unequivocal support for the Women’s Health Protection Act and urge the Senate to pass the bill.
In partnership with the National Council of Jewish Women, we represent a network of over 1,500 Rabbis and Jewish Clergy for Repro who have pledged to speak out about abortion justice in our communities and to educate others about the Jewish values underpinning our support for abortion access for all. We work to ensure that our communities are places where anyone who has, or may ever, terminate a pregnancy feels loved and welcomed, where people understand what our tradition teaches about these issues, and where we emphasize the importance of fighting for reproductive health, rights, and justice for everyone.
The Women’s Health Protection Act embodies this mission and our hope for a future where all are free to make their own moral and faith-informed decisions about their lives, their futures, and their families without political interference. It is profoundly unjust that abortion bans and restrictions fall hardest on those already facing barriers to exercising their human rights — including Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC); those working to make ends meet; members of the LGBTQI+ community; immigrants; young people; those living in rural communities; and people with disabilities.
In Judaism, we consider pikuach nefesh, the saving and preserving of life, to be one of our most critical principles. We affirm that protecting the existing life of the pregnant person is paramount at all stages of pregnancy. In Judaism, a fetus does not have the same personhood status as one who is already living and functioning in the world, up until and into the onset of labor and childbirth (Mishnah, Ohalot 7:6). The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 69b) asserts that the fetus is “mere fluid” for the first 40 days (from conception; that which would be considered 7 or 8 weeks’ gestation by today’s counting) and, following this period, the fetus is regarded as a physical part of the pregnant individual’s body (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 23b).
This is why we understand the goal of the Women’s Health Protection Act — ensuring equal access to abortion nationwide — not only as an abortion justice issue and a core social justice issue, but as a matter of religious freedom as well. The US Constitution demands that no one religion should be enshrined in law or dictate public policy on any issue, including abortion.
Policies granting “fetal personhood” rights or establishing that “life” begins at conception are contrary to the teachings of our tradition and violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by enshrining one religious view into law. What’s more, because Jewish law not only permits abortion in many cases but also requires it when the life or health (including psychological and physical health) of the pregnant individual is at risk, laws limiting or restricting access to abortion directly impede Jews’ ability to practice Judaism, further violating the Free Exercise Clause while simultaneously infringing upon the constitutional right to privacy found in the Fourteenth Amendment.
We need federal legislation now more than ever. With the passage of SB 8 in Texas and the strong possibility that the Supreme Court will overturn or significantly gut the protections of Roe v Wade this year, and over 100 new abortion bans passed in 2021 alone, there is more at stake now for reproductive and religious freedom than has been in fifty years. The Women’s Health Protection Act would create a new tool for safeguarding access to high-quality care and securing constitutional rights by protecting patients and providers from political interference. The bill guarantees providers the right to deliver abortion care — and people the right to receive that care — without limitations that single out abortion or impede access to care. Notably, the bill would also establish clear guidance for courts considering whether a requirement impedes access to abortion care in violation of Women’s Health Protection Act.
We call on the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to protect access to abortion and to help us build a society where all can participate equally and thrive in our communities with dignity and freedom.
To see signers go to: https://www.ncjw.org/news/513-jewish-clergy-leaders-letter-support-whpa/#