NEW YORK, NY (May 2, 2022) For over five decades, the Rabbinical Assembly has strongly and repeatedly affirmed the halakhic necessity of access to abortion based on our members’ understanding of relevant biblical and rabbinic sources and teshuvot – rabbinic responses – and fiercely opposed efforts that would limit access to abortion or stifle reproductive freedoms in the U.S. In response to legislative efforts that threatened reproductive freedom in 2021, the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, passed a Resolution on Right to Legal and Accessible Abortion in the United States. Following today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn its previous landmark cases, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, effectively nullifying the Constitutional right to abortion for millions of Americans, the RA issued the following statement:
The RA is outraged by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to end the Constitutional right to abortion and deny access to lifesaving medical procedures for millions of individuals in the U.S., in what will be regarded as one of the most extreme instances of governmental overreach in our lifetime.
Many Americans now face a dire crisis. Many more face uncertainty. This is a dangerous time for all people who are capable of becoming pregnant, especially those in categories who have poorer maternal outcomes, and particularly BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people or those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For individuals living in rural areas or in states that will jump to further restrict abortion, this decision is truly life-threatening. For American Jews and those of other faiths, this decision is a restriction on our religious freedom. For people who fall into the intersections of all or most of the above, our personhood has been rejected by the highest court in our nation.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly has repeatedly affirmed the right of a pregnant person to choose an abortion in cases where ‘continuation of a pregnancy might cause severe physical or psychological harm, or where the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective.’ This position is based on our members’ understanding of relevant biblical and rabbinic sources, which compel us to cherish the sanctity of life, including the potential of life during pregnancy, and does not indicate that personhood and human rights begin with conception, but rather with birth as indicated by Exodus 21:22-23.
Based on our understanding of Jewish tradition and religious freedom, The RA supports the right to full access for all those who need abortions to the entire spectrum of reproductive healthcare and opposes all efforts by governmental, private entities, or individuals to limit or dismantle such access. Denying individuals access to the complete spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including contraception, abortion-inducing devices and medications, and abortions, among others, on religious grounds, deprives those who need medical care of their Constitutional right to religious freedom. Imposing civil and criminal consequences for clergy assisting their constituents as guided by halakhah deprives our members of a fundamental element of clerical practice incompatible with Jewish values.
There will continue to be legislative battles in the United States on both the federal and state levels that pose existential threats to reproductive freedom, especially so-called ‘heartbeat’ bills, which violate the foundational principle of separation of church and state. The Rabbinical Assembly emphatically opposes all such laws and Legislative or Executive moves and instead calls on members of Congress to decisively codify Roe v. Wade into law to enshrine the right to health, freedom, and dignity for all Americans.