My Religion, My Choice

How abortion bans thwart religious freedom

Valentine Wiggin

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A pattern carved in stone that resembles the Star of David
Source: Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

I will preface this by saying that I am not Jewish or a scholar of Jewish law.

Abortion bans in various states have gone into effect in various states after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It is no secret that this decision will endanger many people’s lives with desperate turns to back-alley clinics, unproven methods circulating around the Internet, and suicide. Not only that, but the children born from forced pregnancies will likely face a life of abuse and neglect. These are all foreseeable consequences of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but the one I don’t see others talk about is how abortion bans directly violate religious liberty.

Abortion bans would essentially prevent Jewish people from practicing their religion. Under traditional Jewish law, abortion is not only permitted, but commanded in certain cases. For example, Sanhedrin 72b considers any fetus that endangers the carrying parent’s life a “pursuer”. However, after the baby’s head emerges during the birthing process, they are considered human. In the former case, abortion is religiously mandated. Without being able to access abortion, Jewish people will not be able to practice their religion.

Even for abortion bans that supposedly make exceptions for maternal danger, keep in mind that doctors and various legal officials may have different ideas of what constitutes a medically necessary abortion. This means that doctors can still be prosecuted for providing abortions and other related procedures, such as removing a deceased fetus from the uterus. Additionally, psychiatric factors such as risk for postpartum depression or psychosis are likely to be overlooked when determining a medical need for an abortion.

Some people may argue that Jewish people can just seek religious exemptions for abortions. However, in today’s political climate, it is unlikely that this request would be granted. Since so-called ‘pro-life’ legislation likens abortion to murder, a judge in a state with an abortion would likely see a such a request as an attempt to get away with murder. Even without this consideration, receiving a letter for a religious exemption can take between 1–5 days. For a medically necessary abortion, not everyone can wait that long, especially while heeding commands to preserve one’s life.

Pikuach nefesh, the principle of living by the law rather than dying by it, is a core value in Judaism. This concept is so important to Judaism that it supersedes most (if not all) other commands. By imposing its own philosophical definition of humanity on others, pro-life legislation essentially prohibits Jewish people from practicing their religion.

Religious liberty is not just for Christians. It is for anyone who wants to be able to practice or not practice a religion without fear of discrimination or harassment. In addition to taking away Jewish people’s religious liberty, abortion bans infringe on the right to adhere to other non-Christian beliefs and the right to be Christian while denouncing Christian nationalism.

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Valentine Wiggin

Death-positive, sex-positive, and LGBTQ-affirming Christian. Gen Z. I hate onions. She/her