Bans of our Bodies Weekend of Action Prayer

April 17, 2023Rabbi Esther L. Lederman

The following blog post is adapted from remarks given by Rabbi Esther Lederman, Director of Congregational Innovation for the Union for Reform Judaism, at the Bans Off Our Bodies Weekend of Action Interfaith Gathering April 15, 2023, following the ruling in Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine et al. v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration et al. (Watch the video.)

Take action to protect abortion access by urging your members of Congress to support the Women's Health Protection Act, which would create a federal safeguard against state abortion bans and restrictions, and the EACH Act, which would remove the federal insurance coverage ban on abortion and eliminate a financial barrier to care.

My name is Rabbi Esther Lederman
and I stand here representing the Union for Reform Judaism
and the Religious Action Center,
the largest and most diverse Jewish movement in North America.

I don't know about you,
but I'm full of holy anger this morning.
It's the holy anger of a Jew.
Abraham was the first Jew
who understood what holy chutzpah was
when he argued with God to fight for justice.

But I'm not here to argue with you O God.
I'm here to argue with those
who want to use immoral laws
to push their "moral" agenda on us,
who want to impose their religious beliefs on us.

This fight we are in right now --
I am in this fight,
because I am a Jew, because I am a rabbi.

In Judaism, nothing is greater than life.
The Torah commands us to choose life.
We are commanded to break one of the holiest commandments -
     to observe the Sabbath --
in order to save a life.

It is clear in Jewish wisdom and law,
that the life of a woman takes precedent
over the potential life of a fetus.
Over and over again, our laws and tradition say the same thing:
"her life comes before the life of the fetus."

Rashi, an 11th century sage, wrote the following:
"For as long as it did not come out into the world
it is not called a living thing,
And it is permissible to take its life
in order to save its mother.

Torah also distinguishes between the value of a fetus,
and the value of a life:
The punishment for killing a woman is greater
than the punishment,
for causing a woman to miscarry.

Our tradition is very careful with its words.
The fetus is potential life.
Because there is no clear cut
understanding of when life actually begins.

And a court of law or judge doesn't get to decide
when life begins.

Science can tell us when a heartbeat is detected.
Doctors can tell us how far a fetus has developed at six or 10 weeks.
But has a soul yet entered that body?
I would say there is no life without a soul.
We don't believe that life begins at conception.
The courts and the government have no right to tell me when life begins,
especially if it might be put in physical, spiritual, or mental danger.
That is between me, my uterus, and my God.

Choose life, our tradition says.
It implores doctors to heal and save lives.
Our greatest law code says, if a doctor withholds treatment,
they are regarded as one who sheds blood.

I beg of you - the judges, the lawyers, the courts, the legislators.
Your laws are killing us.
You are killing our bodies, our spirits, and our souls.

Let our healers do their jobs.
Let them use abortion as an instrument to save lives.

In closing, I offer this prayer
Written by my rabbi, Stephanie Crawley of Temple Micah.

"Mi Sheiberach Imoteinu -God of our Mothers -

Bless these brave ones Who stand before you

Be with them now- as you were with our mothers
     God of Sarah,
     Who aided her to have a child when she wanted it
     because she wanted it

Be with them now
      God of Rachel
      Who suffered and suffered for a child and then died while giving birth
      Ensure that no one is forced into that same reality

Be with them now
      God of Dinah
      Do not abandon us when we have had our bodies stolen from us through violence and subjugation

Be with them now
      God of Hannah
      Who thought she only had worth because of her womb Teach us all to see our value in our wholeness

Be with them now
      God of Yocheved - the mother of Moses
      Who bravely hid her baby from cruelty and atrocity until she could no longer-and had to leave his life up to fate, 

      Give us the tenacity to fight for a world in which all children can be raised in safe and compassionate communities.
Be with us now

God of Shifra and Puah - 
      the midwives who served Israelite mothers despite any evil decree 
      Give us the strength to fight back and continue supporting women and other people who give birth 

Be with them now 

Bless their holy bodies 
Bless our holy bodies

And Bless the decisions -
      The ones that could be made 
in clinics and in homes with safe medications
      The ones that were made out of medical necessity
That gave safety and saved lives
The ones that were made in hope for the future 
The ones that were grieved over
The ones that were painstakingly fought for
The ones that stood against immoral legislation
      And the ones made in the embrace of freedom 

May everyone always know agency and dignity and love 
May this community never fail to rise in support 
And Be with those who stand beside them in courage - 

      Who lend their voices and their funds 
      Who drive to clinics and accompany them inside 
      Who pick up prescriptions 
      Who shout over protesters 
      Who ensure care and safety 

Be with them now 
Be with us, now"

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