October 30, 2014 · 6 Cheshvan

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Obstetric Fistula Bill Responds to a Moral Challenge


“Rabbi Saperstein: I could not commend highly enough Representative Rosa DeLauro for introducing legislation that would allow the U.S. to invest in proven methods to correct obstetric fistulas in Sub-Saharan Africa, and I call on Congress to offer bipartisan support and swiftly pass this legislation."

In response to Representative Rosa DeLauro's (D-CT) introduction of the United States Leadership to Eradicate Obstetric Fistula Act of 2012 and in light of the crisis that obstetric fistula poses across Asia and Africa, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

I could not commend highly enough Representative Rosa DeLauro for introducing legislation that would allow the U.S. to invest in proven methods to correct obstetric fistulas in Sub-Saharan Africa, and I call on Congress to offer bipartisan support and swiftly pass this legislation.

This legislation can eliminate in a decade the scourge of obstetric fistulas through a network of clinics and teams of U.S. and African doctors, social workers and midwives. And it can do it at the cost of $10 million per year. Think of it: a million women in Sub-Saharan Africa whose lives would be transformed for the better.

More than two million women and girls in Africa and Asia are plagued by a condition that will physically and emotionally brand them for the rest of their lives. Women who suffer from obstetric fistulas after childbirth face a lifetime of symptoms that include leaking urine and feces, which too often causes them to be completely ostracized by their communities. This ostracism frequently leads to divorce, and financial and social abandonment, and these women are often forced to turn to begging or prostitution to survive.

As heirs to a great moral tradition, we bear no obligation more solemn than the commandment that we shall not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors (Leviticus 19:16), regardless of whether these neighbors are physically close or are suffering across the world.

In our own Jewish tradition, when we recite the prayer to heal those who are ill, we ask for "refu'at hanefesh u'refu'at ha-guf" - the healing of the soul and the healing of the body. Repairing a fistula would certainly heal a woman's body and soul. What's more, by simply offering the opportunity to heal these women, we increase their stature in their society. We strengthen these women, who in turn have the opportunity to strengthen their own mothers, sisters and daughters. We know that the campaign to eliminate obstetric fistulas enjoys widespread support on both sides of Congress, across a wide spectrum of women's rights, religious, and medical communities. Now we need Bipartisan support to pass this groundbreaking bill by the end of this session of Congress.



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