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Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of the Women of Reform Judaism, submitted the following joint statement to the House Judiciary Subcomittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations encompass over 1.3 million Reform Jews across North America, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 2000 Reform rabbis, and the Women of Reform Judaism, which represents more than 65,000 Reform Jewish women, submit this statement in strong and sincere opposition to the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7).
The Reform Jewish Movement has long held that it is a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health. Since the 1960s, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Women of Reform Judaism have urged an end to all restrictions on reproductive rights. In the era before Roe v. Wade, the Reform Movement cited a "moral imperative to modernize abortion legislation," lamenting that "illegal abortions yearly take a tragic and needless toll."
When Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the Reform Movement praised the decision for its importance not only in protecting women's health, but also in safeguarding civil liberties. "The question of when life begins is a matter of religious belief and not medical or legal fact," the Union for Reform Judaism resolved in 1975. "While recognizing the right of religious groups whose beliefs differ from ours to follow the dictates of their faith in this matter, we vigorously oppose the attempts to legislate the particular beliefs of those groups into the law that governs us all. This is a clear violation of the First Amendment."
The Reform Movement views abortion as a deeply personal issue and, like most Americans, holds the core belief that women are moral decision-makers in their own right entitled to make fundamental medical and reproductive choices. A woman should make a decision about whether to have an abortion according to her own beliefs and in consultation with her clergy, her family, and her doctor; politicians and ideologues should not make the decision for her. We believe that religious matters are best left to religious communities and individual conscience, and decisions about health, including what constitutes a life-saving procedure, are best left to patients in consultation with physicians.
We come to these beliefs inspired by the sanctity of life. Our faith tradition teaches that women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies above all else. Banning potentially life-saving medical procedures and interfering with a doctor's medical decision-making are contrary to the Jewish commandment to protect life. Although an unborn fetus is precious and is to be protected as a potential human being, Judaism views the life and health of the mother as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life.
The great physician and scholar Maimonides stated, "If a woman is in hard labor…her life takes precedence over [the fetus'] life." Mishnah Ohaloth 7:6 forbids a woman from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and, if her life is threatened, she is allowed no other option but abortion. In addition, a number of scholars assert that if the mental health, sanity or self-esteem of the woman (e.g., in the case of rape or incest) is at risk due to the pregnancy itself, the woman is permitted to terminate the pregnancy ("Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice," page 240). It is due to the intrinsic Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed under some circumstances as both a moral and correct decision.
Furthermore, the Torah makes clear from the beginning that all of humanity—men and women—was created b'tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). With that Divine spark, women are perfectly capable of making moral decisions about their own bodies. We deeply believe that unnecessary constraints to a woman's right to make those decisions violate the principle that God created everyone equally.
For these reasons, we are profoundly concerned by and strongly oppose H.R. 7. This dangerous bill severely threatens the right to choice affirmed by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. Such legislation would prevent women seeking needed reproductive health care from using their own, private money to pay for abortion services. This bill would also deny women the right to deduct abortion services in their health care tax credit, infringing not only on federally-administered health care plans, but also on privately-run and paid-for plans. H.R. 7, if passed, would likely lead many private health insurance plans to eliminate abortion coverage altogether, thus dramatically reducing women’s access to safe and affordable abortion services.
H.R. 7 further enshrines the "Hyde Amendment" into law, barring any federal government money from being spent on abortions needed by women who rely on Medicaid, Medicare or the Indian Health Service except for in the cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the life of the mother. Despite the health care disparities the Affordable Care Act seeks to correct, this bill would certainly reinforce an unfortunate reality that a woman’s ability to fully access her reproductive rights is dependent on where she falls on the income ladder. Women in the Armed Forces would also continue to be restricted from using their own, self-earned money to pay for abortions on military facilities.
We cannot stand silent while the House of Representatives considers a bill that violates the U.S. Constitution, decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent and many of our core Jewish values.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would result in greater government interference in what is typically a very private, and often religious, decision. As Reform Jews committed to the sanctity of a woman’s life and personal dignity, and as Americans committed to core Constitutional principles, we must oppose H.R. 7 and urge your Subcommittee to do the same.