This Sunday, January 22nd should have been a day to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade, and the expansion of reproductive rights and gender equality it represented. Instead, it will be the first anniversary since the Supreme Court overturned this basic human right. In their confirmation hearings, all of the newest Justices asserted they would respect “settled law,” but as soon as the opportunity presented itself made sure Roe would not reach its 50th anniversary. As you know, their decision emboldened the anti-choice forces across the country and we have already seen numerous states enact total or near total bans on abortion while also restricting access to other reproductive health services.
Much of this is, of course, being done under the guise of “religious freedom” and the belief that life begins at the moment of conception. And yet, since Jewish law has NEVER defined life as beginning at conception and has ALWAYS held that abortion is not only acceptable but also required in certain circumstances, this decision reflects the exact opposite of religious freedom. It is a direct infringement on long-held Jewish religious beliefs.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That may be the case, but the overturning of Roe makes clear that the moral arc does not bend toward justice on its own. As well, once it has bent in the direction of justice, it must constantly be reinforced.
I was just eight years old when Roe passed and therefore grew up in a world in which the right of women to have autonomy over their own bodies was a given. And yet, in one sweeping decision, the Supreme Court eliminated this basic right and ushered in a new era of growing infringement on the rights of more than half of the US population. Thus, this January 22nd is a day to remember that we can NEVER again take hard-fought rights and privileges for granted.
As we mark this somber anniversary I encourage you to visit this resource page on the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism website. It offers a wealth of information that in the shadow of Roe being overturned has sadly become an important guide. It includes information on how you can support reproductive rights, available clinics providing reproductive health services, and much more. Of particular note is the effort to help destigmatize abortions by inviting people to share their stories, and tips on how to engage in conversations about the importance of abortion access. The resource guide also has suggestions for lobbying our elected officials and demanding steps be taken to nationally codify reproductive rights. In short, this resource page is both a reminder that we are not powerless in the fight AND a call to action.
As Shabbat approaches I wanted to share these powerful words from my colleague Rabbi Emily Langowitz.
Source of Life, Deep Well of Being:
Be with us now as we mark this day; the dread it brings
And its sacred power to compel us.
Help us to hold our sorrow and our resolve in equal measure.
The arc of the moral universe is long, we know,
And sometimes it bends
So we must turn it, and turn it, and turn it again
Striving ever onward toward a world built on justice
And free from shame.
Comfort us, Compassionate One, in our sorrow for what has been lost.
Strengthen us, Rock and Redeemer, in our work to find it once more.
And give us hope that our nation and its laws might once again reflect
that each of us are Creators in the divine image of our Creator:
Able to speak our truths into being
Able to shape our worlds as we choose
Free to name, to imagine, to discern
What is good
What is good
What is very good.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen