“In solidarity, we join together to defend our rights,” said Cindy Rowe, executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA).

Rowe was referring to a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion leaked earlier this month that, if ultimately issued in a final ruling by the end of June, would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Not only would this upend 50 years’ worth of settled law related to reproductive rights, but it could impact access to birth control, same-sex relationships, interracial marriages and so much more,” Rowe added.


In response, JALSA, along with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW Massachusetts) and Jewish community allies, organized two events—a Jewish community meetup at the Boston Common for this past Saturday’s national “Bans Off Our Bodies Day of Action,” and a Tuesday watch party of a Jewish community rally in Washington, D.C.

Rowe invited those whose practice allowed to come to the Common Saturday at 11:30 a.m., prior to the noon rally. “Remember to bring sunblock and water,” she advised. “It’s going to be hot!”

The weather may vary, but the Jewish position is solidly halachic. “Our Jewish values tell us that a pregnant person has a right to the protection of their physical, mental and emotional health, and that there is no religious obligation to continue a pregnancy if it may result in harm to themselves,” Rowe said. “By restricting access to abortion, the Supreme Court will be preventing us from living according to these values.”

Many area rabbis across denominations addressed the situation this past week. In his Friday night sermon, Rabbi Howard Jaffe of Temple Isaiah in Lexington, a Reform congregation, explained that Judaic law protects the life of the mother.

“There are, in fact, instances in which Jewish tradition not only sanctions abortion, but instances in which abortion is mandated,” he said. “As long as abortion was illegal in this country, the religious rights of Jews and others who do not subscribe to the notion that an embryo or a fetus is an actual life were impinged upon, as they would be again should the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion become law.”

Rabbi Leonard Gordon of B’nai Tikvah in Canton concurred. “Under some circumstances, Jewish law would call on a woman to end a pregnancy for the sake of the mother’s health—physical or emotional,” he wrote in an email from Israel. “In any case, terminating a pregnancy is not ending a life,” Gordon added. “Safe access to abortion should remain legal.”

Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel and Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexngton, both Conservative rabbis like Gordon, signed onto a national letter of support for federal legislation to secure Roe, which failed last week in the Senate 49-51.

“Under Jewish law, human life does not begin at conception,” Rowe added. In fact, she noted, the Talmud notes that a fetus is “mere fluid” for its first 40 days. “Even after 40 days, Jewish law still considers the fetus merely a part of the mother’s body—and not its own person—until childbirth,” she stated, echoing Jaffe’s statement. “And if at any point during the pregnancy the mother’s life is put at risk by the fetus, Jewish law not only allows abortion, but actually obligates it.”

She quoted from the Mishnah that this is because “her life takes precedence over that of the fetus.”

By restricting access to abortion, the Supreme Court would prevent living according to these passages, Rowe maintained.

“Our Jewish values tell us that a pregnant person has a right to the protection of their physical, mental and emotional health, and that there is no religious obligation to continue a pregnancy if it may result in harm to themselves.”

Apart from religious dictates, a decision to roll back Roe could have far-reaching social ramifications. Rowe mentioned potential implications for economic and racial justice; the societal role of those who can become pregnant when their reproductive rights are controlled by a court, rather than themselves or their medical providers; access to birth control; same-sex relationships; interracial marriages; and the functioning of democracy.

“I’m sure you don’t need a reminder about how powerful our courts and legislatures are when it comes to how we conduct our lives,” Rowe wrote in a recent action alert to the JALSA community. “That is why we strive every day at JALSA to pursue justice and enact laws that will allow us to create a more equitable world.”

It is also why the very real possibility of the overturning of Roe is so concerning to the community, which is by no means giving up.

“Through this term, we have the opportunity to loudly declare our opposition to this proposed dramatic withdrawal of rights,” Rowe said, adding that such a ruling could directly impact over 36 million people of childbearing age who live in 26 U.S. states that have indicated they will restrict abortion rights if given the chance.

“Saturday’s rally was designed to show support for abortion access as reproductive rights are under attack, and to show the public won’t back down during this crisis,” she said.

On Tuesday, JALSA will join other national Jewish organizations to co-sponsor the 9 a.m. Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice, organized by the National Council of Jewish Women, to be held in Washington, D.C.

The Jewish community watch party for the national rally will begin at 8:45 a.m. on May 17, with live-streaming of the Washington rally to start at 9 a.m. Register here.

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