On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court recognized in Roe v. Wade that the choice to terminate a pregnancy is a woman's constitutionally protected right. Since that time, conservative organizations, certain religious groups, and some elected officials have been working to pass laws that make it nearly impossible for women to have access to safe, legal abortions. With the election of an anti-choice president in 2000, there have been increased challenges to a woman's right to choose.
Our tradition has always upheld the sacredness of life. Similarly, it has upheld the sacredness of the body. Mishnah Ohaloth 7:6, for example, forbids a woman from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and if her life is threatened, the text permits her no other option but abortion. It is due to the fundamental Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances.
The Reproductive Health Act will protect the right to choose or refuse abortion and to choose or refuse contraception.
2. Reform Jewish Position
Because access to health care is a major concern for many women, especially those in poverty, the Reform Jewish Movement has long advocated ensuring that women are treated fairly and equally under any health care reform package, including coverage of all reproductive medical needs.
In a 1935 resolution, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) expressed their support for the lifting of bans on the dissemination of birth control literature.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) followed with their 1947 Resolution on Birth Control, followed by a URJ resolution in 1950. In 1965, WRJ passed a resolution concerning Judaism and the Family, stating, "We appeal for liberalization of the abortion laws of the various States and urge our United States constituents to work toward this end."
The URJ continued its commitment to reproductive health with resolutions in 1967,1975,1981, and 1990, stating in 1975 that "in any decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, the individual family or woman must weigh the tradition as she struggles to formulate her own religious and moral criteria to reach her own personal decision....We oppose all constitutional amendments that would abridge or circumscribe this right." The URJ also passed a resolution on fetal tissue research in 1993.
The CCAR went on record in 1967, 1975,1980,1991, 1993, and 1995, affirming the "right of a woman or individual family to terminate a pregnancy" and stating that the CCAR "opposes amendments and legislation which would abridge or circumscribe this right.
3. Legislative Update
New York was one of the first states in the nation to legalize abortion and has been a proactive pioneer in the reproductive rights movement. Our state was one of the first to decriminalize abortion, by modifying the penal code in 1970. That law was a bold step at the time, but it is now outdated and is not in line with the 1973 decision of Roe v Wade , including the fundamental right of women to make private medical decisions regarding contraception and abortion, nor does it take into account major progress in how abortion care is now provided.
Additionally, New York law does not contain a health exception, or even any affirmative guarantee protecting women's rights to make private reproductive health care decisions. We rely on the federal constitution to guarantee those rights, leaving New York vulnerable to further erosion by the U.S. Supreme Court, which set a new and dangerous precedent on April 18, 2007 when it upheld an abortion restriction that eroded the protection of a woman's health.
In 2007, The Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act (RHPP) was introduced in the State Senate (S.6045). The RHPP Act will take the principles underlying Roe v. Wade and put them into New York law, ensuring every individual's fundamental right to privacy with respect to personal medical decisions. As part of the Alliance for Women's Health, RJV sent a memo in support of this act to the Governor and to all members of the State Legislature. It did not pass.
In 2011 two different Reproductive Health Act (RHA) bills were introduced in the State Senate (S2844 introduced by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins S2524 introduced by Sen. Jeff Klein, which are distinguished only by the date they take effect). Assemblywoman Deborah Glick introduced the Reproductive Health Act (A6112) in the Assembly. The Act will repeal the penal code provisions containing New York's abortion statute, and place laws related to the regulation of abortion in the public health code. The State would continue to regulate abortion in the same way it regulates other medical services. Consistent with Roe v. Wade, the Act would allow abortion up to the point of viability and after that, only if there is a threat to the woman's health or life. We trust women to make health care decisions that are best for them and their families.
In his State of the State in January, 2013, Gov. Cuomo outlined a ten-point plan termed the Women's Equality Agenda. One item on the agenda is the Reproductive Health Act. While no legislation has been introduced yet this session that encompasses all of the Women's Equality Agenda items, Reform Jewish Voice remains committed to protecting reproductive health and is a coalition member of NY for Women's Equality.
4. Related Links
Family Planning Advocates
Concerned Clergy for Choice (a program of Family Planning Advocates)
NARAL Pro-Choice New York
Planned Parenthood Advocates of New York
Advocates for Youth
Interfaith Impact of New York State
5. Talking Points
The Reproductive Health Act:
- Guarantees a woman's ability to make her own personal and private health care decisions to control her own reproductive health in a manner that is best for herself, her family, and her future.
- Ensures that a woman will have the right to abortion care if her health is endangered at any time during her pregnancy.
- Treats regulation of abortion as an issue of public health and medical practice rather than as a potential crime, by taking abortion out of the New York State penal code.
- Provides that abortion care can only be provided by qualified, trained and licensed medical providers acting within their scope of practice.
- Guarantees everyone the right to use or refuse contraception.
- Updates New York State law by codifying constitutional requirements and removing outdated provisions, in order to ensure that women's rights are protected in the future.
- All other health care services are regulated through health laws.
- Maintains existing "conscience clause" protections.
- Seven in ten New York voters, including 70% who identify as Catholic support passage of the Reproductive Health Act.
- The Reform Jewish movement has an unwavering commitment to the protection and preservation of women's reproductive rights and urges the passage of the Reproductive Health Act.