I attended my first Pro-Choice rally with my mother and a delegation from my synagogue when I was four or five years old, and I remember asking “Why are all these ladies carrying hangers?” My mother’s response (clearly explaining a hanger’s historical symbolism of the dangers of back-alley abortions, but in an age-appropriate manner) was a powerful lesson to a little girl that women should be responsible for their own bodies. Thirty years later, as a Reform rabbi and representative of the CCAR to the Religious Coalition for Reproduction Choice, I am honored to speak for our Movement on these issues. I am sad that we are still debating these basic issues of freedom and justice. I am angry that so often the faith-based position is assumed to be the anti-Choice position. I am hopeful that if enough of us, women and men, speak loudly enough and often enough about reproductive health and justice as people of faith, we will create a future where every woman is free to make the best choices for herself and her family. What follows is a statement I made on behalf of the CCAR at an RCRC press conference celebrating greater access for women’s health care in the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“Jewish tradition in general and Reform Judaism in particular have always been deeply concerned with the physical health and wellbeing of individuals and the rights of religious minorities to be free from coercion by other religious communities and the state. Caring for the health of the community has always been a dynamic interaction between collective and individual responsibilities. In Judaism, women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies. But providing for health is not just an obligation for the patient and their doctor, but for the whole of society. Maimonides, a revered Jewish scholar, identified care for the sick as the most important communal service that a city has to offer its residents (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Hamadda 4:23).
In light of that shared interest and responsibility, “for decades the Reform Jewish Movement has supported and defended a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health decisions. We advocate that all people be equipped with the information they need to make healthy choices and the tools to implement those choices. We believe that both American and Jewish tradition entrust patients with autonomy in making health care decisions, free from government and interference. In a diverse democracy, each person has the liberty to draw upon his or her own faith for guidance, and not be subject to the religious views of others.”
Ensuring these freedoms and responsibilities becomes all the more important as we create heath care policy for all Americans. We celebrate the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that expand the access of all women toward the full range of health care. Anything less is a violation of basic freedoms of religion, privacy, and conscience.”
Rabbi Jessica Oleon is a rabbi at Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C. and a 2012-2013 Brickner Fellow.