The National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh has signed on to participate in 73Forward, a national Jewish campaign to support abortion rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the issue and the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance.
The campaign, led by national NCJW, will work to increase access to abortion services across the U.S., as well as stimulate activism among Jews. Two forums on abortion rights are slated to take place Jan. 28-30, 2022, during a weekend dubbed “Repro Shabbat.”
“The narrative in this country about abortion and religion belies the Jewish story,” said Sara Segel, interim executive director at NCJW Pittsburgh. “In Judaism, abortion is not only permitted, but sometimes required. Protecting an individual’s ability to make their own health care decisions in accordance with their needs and personal beliefs is tied to religious freedom.”
Forums such as the ones hosted next month, Segel added, “are opportunities for us to become stronger advocates for abortion justice.”
The first virtual event – “The Changing Landscape of Abortion Rights,” set to take place on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022 at 4 p.m. on Zoom – will feature University of Pittsburgh School of Law Professor Greer Donley on the changing perspectives and aspects of abortion rights. There will be a particular focus on Pennsylvania, which, due to its politically “purple” profile, could become a battleground state for the issue of abortion access.
Donley told the Chronicle she was “motivated to participate in the Repro Shabbat because I’m Jewish and have devoted my scholarly life to reproductive justice.”
“I think we are looking at the strong possibility of a post-Roe world, and in that world, we will need to mobilize,” Donley said. “It is all but certain that the Supreme Court will allow the [recently argued] 15-week ban [in Mississippi] to stand. My prediction after listening to the oral argument is that the Court will overturn Roe.”
Donley said she feels Chief Justice John Roberts “wants to craft a compromise where a watered-down ‘right’ to abortion still exists, but it did not seem like any other conservative justice wanted to join him as the fifth vote.”
The second virtual event — “Jews, the First Amendment, and Abortion Rights,” slated for Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022 at 2 p.m. — will be led by Rachel Kranson, director of the Jewish Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh and a scholar of modern Jewish history, American Judaism, and gender and sexuality studies. Using her research, she will discuss the history of reproductive politics and the political investments of American Jews — specifically how legal teams representing American Jewish organizations, including NCJW, developed arguments that defended abortion access as a religious right.
This discussion is co-sponsored by Congregation Beth Shalom, Congregation Dor Hadash and NCJW Pittsburgh.
“In a number of court cases since the 1970s, American Jewish lawyers have been at the forefront of arguing that laws restricting abortion access compromised the religious freedom of American Jews,” Kranson told the Chronicle. “According to their arguments, abortion restrictions violated the establishment clause because they were based on particular Christian ideas about when life begins.
“Jewish religious traditions, they argued, did not agree with the notion that life begins at conception,” she added. “These lawyers also argued that restrictions on abortion violated the free exercise clause [of the First Amendment] because there are some instances in which Jewish law would demand that a woman terminate her pregnancy, particularly in cases when that pregnancy threatened her life and health. Not being able to access an abortion when their tradition demands it would prevent American Jews from freely exercising their religion.”
The Supreme Court is not expected to reach a decision on the Mississippi case argued last week until summer, Donley said.
“My talk in January will have to be based on the speculation that Roe will be overturned or gutted,” Donley told the Chronicle. “But most reproductive justice scholars feel pretty confident in that outcome at this point — the only open question is one of degree.”
To register for the virtual events, visit ncjwpghevents.org/. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.