August 19, 2022

Roe Reversal Restricts Religious Freedom

Guest Opinion
By Rabbi Dr. Chava Bahle | July 16, 2022

Shortly before my father died, he told us he feared losing control over his bodily functions. For him, this loss was a bridge too far. He could not control the cancer. He could handle losing his hair, losing his ability to be out of range of his oxygen concentrator, losing his capacity to work. What he did not want, what he dreaded, was to lose the most intimate forms of bodily autonomy.

When people arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, they were immediately stripped of bodily autonomy. Personal effects, of course, were immediately seized. Heads were shaved. Identical uniforms were issued. Tattoos were forced into their flesh. Compulsorily stripping the victims of their bodily autonomy was a necessary step in dehumanizing them.

When kidnapped from their homes, Native American children were stripped of their clothing and forced into European-style garb. Their languages were banned by force; they were literally punished for certain movements of their tongues inside their mouths if they spoke anything but English. Their hair, rich with meaning in many Native cultures, was cut off.

We can barely fathom such losses of autonomy. The forcible theft and criminalization of self-governance should be equally unfathomable. That same right to bodily autonomy is the at center of a person’s right to choose abortion.

Anti-abortion advocates seem too often to focus on the uterus, not the human.

Overturning Roe v. Wade is a moral failure and a direct violation of religious freedom. In Jewish law, if a pregnancy is a threat to the person, abortion is not only allowed but, in many cases, required. There are other viewpoints, but this is the widely accepted standard.

Why? Because in Jewish law, the life of a living human being is paramount. By criminalizing abortion, the justices of the Supreme Court have made an aspect of my religion illegal. Let me say this again: The Supreme Court has ruled to limit the free exercise of religion in the United States.

CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women Sheila Katz puts it this way: “This egregious decision is a direct violation of both our American values and our Jewish tradition…the rights of American Jews and other people of faith who believe in access to abortion, who are the majority of people in this country, have been sacrificed to the overwhelming zeal of one small group that has turned the shield of religious freedom into a sword.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling will permanently alter the lives of people who will be forced to remain pregnant, increasing the chances that they will face life-threatening medical complications, poverty, and unemployment, Katz said. Anti-abortion advocates would rather a person die than have an abortion.

Proponents of abortion bans may feign concern for fetuses, but what of the social obligation we have to the people who are pregnant? Do these same anti-abortion advocates offer anything but platitudes and niceties for those who will be forced against their will to carry a pregnancy to term? This decision has already set in motion a major public health emergency, all so that the government can have a hand in my uterus.

This ruling is an attack on American women, on all people who can become pregnant, and on our rights to healthcare, privacy, and bodily autonomy. The opinions issued by conservative justices in this case also lay the groundwork for further erosion of our rights, and I fear what will come next.

I remain bewildered by the prevalence of rhetoric of “liberty,” “less government,” and “don’t tread on me” coming from the same extremists who want to restrict our most intimate liberty: bodily autonomy. I, for one, will not stand by while I and millions of others are stripped of our right to privacy and freedom to seek needed healthcare.

This dehumanizing decision should be a call to all who cherish privacy and autonomy. It is time to march, to give, and to protest to ensure that people who are pregnant have the right to safe abortion.

Chava Bahle is a twice-ordained rabbi and Maggid, a Jewish inspirational preacher, and storyteller. She lives in Suttons Bay.



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