Jewish community reacts to SCOTUS Dobbs v. Jackson decision
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AbortionRoe V. Wade overturned in 5-4 decision

Jewish community reacts to SCOTUS Dobbs v. Jackson decision

Court strikes down federal constitutional right to abortion

the Pittsburgh Jewish community came together June 25 reacting to the SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, at a Havdalah organized by the NCJW. Photo by David Rullo.
the Pittsburgh Jewish community came together June 25 reacting to the SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, at a Havdalah organized by the NCJW. Photo by David Rullo.

The Jewish community responded quickly to the June 24 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which sent the question of abortion rights back to the states.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, issued a statement saying it was “outraged” over the court’s decision to end the Constitutional right to abortion. It called the ruling “one of the most extreme instances of governmental overreach in our lifetime,” writing that many Americans now face a dire crisis.

“This is a dangerous time for all people who are capable of becoming pregnant, especially those in categories that have poorer maternal outcomes, and particularly BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people or those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” the statement said.

The Union of Reform Judaism published a statement on its website that included reaction from leaders in the movement.

Rabbi Marla Feldman, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism, also said she was “outraged” that the Supreme Court “stripped women and others who can become pregnant of the fundamental right to make essential health care decisions free of governmental interference.”

She said her organization will work with Congress and state legislators to protect and improve access to abortion and fundamental rights.

“We will not be silent as the court tries to turn back the clock 50 years,” she concluded.

Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner called the ruling “the wrong decision, full stop.”

Pesner said the decision threatens other fundamental rights, including access to contraception and LGBTQ+ rights.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) issued a statement less reactionary in tone, saying it was unable to either mourn or celebrate the court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

The OU said it could not support absolute bans on abortion or support legislation that does not limit abortion to situations in which medical (including mental health) professionals affirm that carrying a pregnancy to term poses a risk to the mother’s life.

“As people of faith, we see life as a precious gift,” the statement read, adding the right to choose is at odds with Judaism’s religious and halachic values. “Yet, the same mandate to preserve life requires us to be concerned for the life of the mother. Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus …”

The statement ends by saying the extreme polarization and politicization of the abortion issue do not bode well for a much-needed nuanced result.

Standing apart from the OU, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance issued a statement saying the Supreme Court’s decision “will devastate the lives of women across the United States who will lose personal agency over their lives and bodies,” violates the religious liberty of the Jewish community and undermines women’s ability to follow halacha.

Locally, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills issued a statement saying the congregation’s leadership supported the RA’s statement.

Temple Emanuel of the South Hills, too, sent an email to its members saying the Dobbs v. Jackson decision “contravenes Jewish sensibilities and halakha while creating feelings of anger and fear among many at Temple [Emanuel] and our greater Jewish community whose health, autonomy and rights are no longer protected by the Constitution.”

Former Women of Reform Judaism president and Temple Sinai member Lynn Lazar said that the Supreme Court decision requires people to “keep fighting for our rights, unfortunately, even after 50 years.”

The decision reaches beyond abortion and puts reproductive health care rights and freedom of choice at risk, she added.

“It’s not my job to put my religious beliefs or personal choice on anyone else, and I certainly don’t like it when other people try to put their beliefs or choices on me,” Lazar said. “I think this is clearly a matter of women’s rights, women’s health care, access and choice.”

One member of the community lauding the SCOTUS decision is the president of the Pittsburgh-based Jewish Pro-Life Foundation, Cecily Routman.

“The justices of the Supreme Court corrected the major errors in jurisprudence that happened in 1973 because the Constitution does not enumerate, spell out, the right to abortion,” she said.

Because abortion is a matter of life and death, she added, the matter should go back to the states where there is more local control.

The Dobbs decision, Routman said, will allow the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation to continue its work of education in the Jewish community and promote “lifesaving alternatives.”

“I think we have a much better chance of doing that and influencing how people not only vote but how people influence their friends and neighbors and people in their circle of influence,” she said.

Because the majority of Jews disagree with her stance, Rotuman said, there is a lot of work to be done in the community.

“Part of it is to educate the Jewish community in Pennsylvania and beyond,” she said. “We would like to be able to teach people so they understand what this is all about.”

And while Jewish opinion is nuanced, it appears Routman has a difficult hill to climb, as most in the community appear to agree with Hadassah National President Rhoda Smolow — who issued a statement with Hadassah CEO Naomi Adler — saying that “Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, reaffirms its unwavering support for full and complete access to reproductive health care services and the right to make decisions based on each woman’s religious, moral and ethical values.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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