On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court recognized in Roe v. Wade that the choice to terminate a pregnancy is a woman’s constitutionally protected right. Since that time numerous attempts have been made to pass laws that make it nearly impossible for women to have access to safe, legal abortions.
New York was one of the first states in the nation to legalize abortion and has been a proactive pioneer in the reproductive rights movement. Our state was one of the first to decriminalize abortion, by modifying the penal code in 1970. That law was a bold step at the time, but it is now outdated and is not in line with the 1973 decision of Roe v Wade , including the fundamental right of women to make private medical decisions regarding contraception and abortion, nor does it take into account major progress in how abortion care is now provided.
Additionally, New York law does not contain a health exception, or even any affirmative guarantee protecting women’s rights to make private reproductive health care decisions. We rely on the federal constitution to guarantee those rights, leaving New York vulnerable to further erosion by the U.S. Supreme Court, which set a new and dangerous precedent on April 18, 2007 when it upheld an abortion restriction that eroded the protection of a woman’s health.
Our tradition has always upheld the sacredness of life. Similarly, it has upheld the sacredness of the body. Mishnah Ohaloth 7:6, for example, forbids a woman from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and if her life is threatened, the text permits her no other option but abortion. It is due to the fundamental Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances.
Reform Jewish Values and Policy
In a 1935 resolution, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) expressed their support for the lifting of bans on the dissemination of birth control literature.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) followed with their 1947 Resolution on Birth Control, followed by a URJ resolution in 1950. In 1965, WRJ passed a resolution concerning Judaism and the Family, stating, “We appeal for liberalization of the abortion laws of the various States and urge our United States constituents to work toward this end.”
The URJ continued its commitment to reproductive health with resolutions in 1967,1975,1981, and 1990, stating in 1975 that “in any decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, the individual family or woman must weigh the tradition as she struggles to formulate her own religious and moral criteria to reach her own personal decision….We oppose all constitutional amendments that would abridge or circumscribe this right.” The URJ also passed a resolution on fetal tissue research in 1993.
The CCAR went on record in 1967, 1975,1980,1991, 1993, and 1995, affirming the “right of a woman or individual family to terminate a pregnancy” and stating that the CCAR “opposes amendments and legislation which would abridge or circumscribe this right.
In 2007, The Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act (RHPP) was introduced in the State Senate (S.6045). The RHPP Act incorporated the principles underlying Roe v. Wade and codified them New York law, ensuring every individual’s fundamental right to privacy with respect to personal medical decisions.
There are two different Reproductive Health Act (RHA) bills in the State Senate (S2844 introduced by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and S2524 introduced by Sen. Jeff Klein) which were distinguished only by the date they would take effect. Assemblywoman Deborah Glick introduced the Reproductive Health Act (A6112) in the Assembly. The Act will repeal the penal code provisions containing New York’s abortion statute, and place laws related to the regulation of abortion in the public health code. The State would continue to regulate abortion in the same way it regulates other medical services. Consistent with Roe v. Wade, the Act would allow abortion up to the point of viability and after that, only if there is a threat to the woman’s health or life.
The threat to reproductive choice is still very real in New York State–the RHA is not yet law and the state legislature is at a crossroads. The Assembly passed the 10-point Women’s Equality Act which includes protections for reproductive health care decisions but the Senate refuses to consider this provision of the legislation.