Public Discourse: Why Religious Freedom Can’t Protect Abortion
September 6, 2022

by Andrew Kubick in Public Discourse

Religious freedom is America’s first freedom. As such, its exercise ought to be permitted with very few exceptions. One exception to its exercise is that violence ought never to be permitted, or excused on account of someone’s religious practice. Abortion is an egregious act of violence because it directly and intentionally takes the life of the most innocent and vulnerable members of society—children. The government has a compelling interest in protecting children from violence, and so has compelling reason to deny any religious-freedom claims to abortion.

Generation to Generation, Inc. on behalf of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor filed a formal complaint in June against Florida in anticipation of the state’s law introducing abortion restrictions, which went into effect on July 1, 2022. The law bans nearly all abortions after the fifteenth gestational week. According to the complaint, the state ban limits the free exercise of religion for Jewish women in Florida who wish to have an abortion after the fifteenth gestational week. L’Dor Va-Dor makes a conscience claim that Jewish law (as they understand it) compels them to terminate a pregnancy “if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman, or for many other reasons not permitted under the Act.” Moreover, L’Dor Va-Dor argues, “The [law] prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and thus violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”

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It’s worth noting that according to some Jewish scholars, L’Dor Va-Dor’s views on abortion are unorthodox within Judaism. Rabbi Yaakov Menken argued in Newsweek that positions on abortion like those of L’Dor Va-Dor and Michaelson are “progressive,” relying on a “decontextualize[d]” and “distort[ed]” view of Jewish Law. He continued, “The sanctity of life and the importance of traditional morality both come directly from the Hebrew Bible.” Yes, the mother’s life is sacred, but so too is the child’s life in her womb. Additionally, another Jewish writer, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, explained that the Halacha does permit exceptions “to the Torah’s strict ban on abortion,” but those exceptions are precisely that: exceptions, not the rule. Gordimer concluded, “Halacha does not view abortion as a choice that one makes, . . . but rather as a serious prohibition that may be overridden in certain crisis situations, upon the determination by a posek who rules on the case based on the specifics.”

Read the full article in Public Discourse.

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