Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Blog for Choice Day: An Orthodox Jewish Feminist's Musings on Abortion

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I thank God that I am able to say that today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic decision legalizing first trimester abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice America is hosting its eighth annual Blog for Choice Day.

As an Orthodox Jew, fellow feminists are often wary around me when it comes to abortion politics, since they are unsure whether or not my religion allows me to support choice. The simple answer is that I am completely and totally behind Roe v. Wade. I strongly believe that it is imperative that abortion is legal, safe, and accessible to every American woman, regardless of class, race, or any other factor.

There is more complex answer, though. According to halakha (Jewish law), a woman may only have an abortion if her life is at risk. This is derived from the halakha that if somebody (in this case, the fetus) is trying to kill someone else (the mother), the pursued must kill the pursuer to protect him or herself. Because of this, I would never personally have an abortion, unless both my rabbi and doctor agreed that was necessary, God forbid.

However, I would never dream of imposing my own personal beliefs onto every American woman. Even if I disagree from a religious standpoint, it’s not any of my business if a woman wants to have an abortion. There has to be a separation between church and state; religious beliefs have no place in American law, whether they’re my own or somebody else’s.

I really don’t understand the Orthodox Jews who protest against legalized abortion. They’re working against their own religion. If a woman’s pregnancy is putting her life at risk, she must have an abortion - it’s not even an option or choice she has. It’s considered fulfilling a mitzvah (commandment) to do so. So if these (male) Jews who campaign against Roe v. Wade God forbid succeed, and their wives or daughters God forbid have a pregnancy that risks their lives, they’re in a real pickle. According to halakha, they have to have an abortion…but they would have to get an illegal, back alley, unsafe procedure because it’s not legal anymore. That just makes loads of sense, doesn’t it?

My mother recently told me that her aunt had an abortion when she was younger. My great-aunt survived the Holocaust with her mother, sister (my grandmother), one of her brothers, and husband. Eager to repopulate the decimated Jewish nation, she gave birth to a daughter and son in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany. (“When I was little, we would always joke that her son could never run for president because he wasn’t born in America,” my mom said, interrupting the flow of her own story. “But the daughter also couldn’t run for president, if she wasn’t born in America,” I said. “We didn’t think in terms of women being president in the 1950s,” my mom explained.) After my great-aunt came to America, she became pregnant again. She was an immigrant fresh off the boat, unfamiliar with the language or customs of her new country, taking care of two small children, and dealing with a husband whose income wasn’t yet stable. I imagine that she weighed all of these factors, plus some more that I’m not privy to, and decided that a third child would be irresponsible. She went with her mother (my great-grandmother) to get a back alley abortion.

My great-aunt has had Alzheimer’s since I was a little girl, so I was never able to ask her about this decision, nor will I ever be able to. However, having heard stories about her from my mother, I have to think that she supported Roe v. Wade and would believe in every women’s right to a legal, safe, and accessible abortion.

At the end of the day, as much influence as a woman may give to her husband, boyfriend, parent, clergy member, or other individual when it comes to deciding whether or not to have an abortion, the only person who can make the decision is the woman herself. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Her body, her choice. No governmental interference allowed.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for furthering the conversation on this important women's issue. Please visit Venus Blogs as they also promote stories and issues that enlighten the masses about women's topics.