Last Saturday, January 22nd, marked the 49th anniversary of the US Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The Roe decision was revolutionary, as it protected a pregnant person's right to have an abortion, without excessive government restrictions.
Now, we face a grim reality that Roe may not reach its 50th anniversary. This spring, the Court will deliver its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the case that could functionally overturn Roe. If this happens, almost half the states in the US are poised to ban abortion entirely.
As we celebrate the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we reflect on the work that still needs to be done to ensure all people can get the care they need, when they need it.
With abortion access continuously under attack, we are reminded: rights do not guarantee access. Even under Roe, abortion restrictions and bans have kept abortion care out of reach for many people, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and people working to make ends meet. In fact, in the 49 years since Roe, over 1,330 state abortion restrictions have been enacted, including parental consent laws, waiting periods, gestational limits, inaccurate counseling, and ultrasound requirements.
One harmful barrier to care that obstructs an individual's constitutional right to abortion is the Hyde Amendment, which Congress passed just three years after Roe. The Hyde Amendment bars federal funds from being used for abortions, denying abortion coverage for people (predominantly People of Color and low-income individuals) enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP); federal employees and their dependents; Peace Corps volunteers; Native Americans; and people in federal prison and immigration detention centers. When insurance coverage is denied for abortion, people are either forced to carry the pregnancy to term or pay for care out of their own pockets. Further, people today face obstacles accessing abortion care due to inaccessible public transportation, lack of paid leave or affordable child care, and discrimination on the basis of race, poverty, gender, and disability.
Jewish tradition recognizes abortion as essential health care that is not only permitted, but in some cases required when the life of a pregnant person is at risk (Mishnah Ohalot 7:6). In fact, this Shabbat's Torah portion (January 28-29), Parashat Mishpatim, provides Jewish tradition's earliest guidance on reproductive freedom. The Torah says, "if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet she doesn't die, he shall be surely fined…. But if she dies, then thou shalt give life for life" (Exodus 21:22-25) This passage teaches that the fetus does not have the same "personhood" status as the mother. Learn more in The Social Justice Torah Commentary.
There are several other Jewish teachings that inspire our commitment to advocating for equal access to abortion. As Reform Jews, we know that every person deserves bodily autonomy and access to health care, including abortion care, free from barriers and stigma. Banning potentially life-saving medical procedures and interfering with a patient's decision-making and moral agency runs contrary to Jewish teachings and infringes on religious freedom.
The legality of abortion is just the beginning. Especially with the fate of Roe in the balance, we must codify the rights granted by Roe v. Wade and go beyond Roe to ensure that abortion is not only legal, but also accessible, free of barriers and stigma.
To honor the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:
- Urge your Senators to pass the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would create a federal safeguard against countless state regulations, bans, and restrictions that prevent people from accessing the abortion care they need.
- Urge Congress to Repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal health insurance coverage of abortion, disproportionately impacting low-income individuals and limiting their access to abortion services.
- Urge Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act to advance voting rights and protect our democracy. Voting rights are intrinsically connected to abortion rights. The legislators who are enacting abortion restrictions, are the same legislators enacting voter-suppressive legislation, and the burden of both fall hardest on Communities of Color. Strengthening the freedom to vote is key to protecting reproductive freedom.
- Host or join a Repro Shabbat event! The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) is proud to partner with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) on Repro Shabbat, coming this weekend, January 28-29th (Parashat Mishpatim). We are carving out this moment to come together and honor reproductive freedom over Shabbat. The Repro Shabbat Toolkit is available and full of different ways to create a meaningful Shabbat dedicated to Reproductive Freedom. After you register, NCJW will send you a suite of resources and programs that you can use that Shabbat, or that week.
Last Friday, the RAC joined the Jewish Abortion Access Coalition, including Women of Reform Judaism, Keshet, and other organizations representing the major Jewish denominations, in hosting a Day of Action to urge the Senate to pass WHPA. Check out the press statement!