On Tuesday, May 3 the leadership of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (Orthodox Union) issued the following statement:
The Orthodox Union is unable to either mourn or celebrate the news reports of the U.S. Supreme Court’s likely overturning of Roe v. Wade. We cannot support absolute bans on abortion—at any time point in a pregnancy—that would not allow access to abortion in lifesaving situations. Similarly, we cannot support legislation that permits “abortion on demand”—at any time point in a pregnancy—and does not confine abortion to situations in which medical (including mental health) professionals affirm that carrying the pregnancy to term poses real risk to the life of the mother.
As people of faith, we see life as a precious gift granted to us and maintained within us by God. Jewish law places paramount value on choosing life and mandates—not as a right but as a responsibility—safeguarding our own lives and the lives of others by behaving in a healthy and secure manner, doing everything in our power to save lives, and refraining from endangering others. This concern for even potential life extends to the unborn fetus and to the terminally ill.
Abortion on demand—the “right to choose” (as well as the “right to die”) are thus completely at odds with our religious and halachic values. Legislation and court rulings that enshrine such rights concern us deeply on a societal level.
Yet that same mandate to preserve life requires us to be concerned for the life of the mother. Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus such that where the pregnancy critically endangers the physical health or mental health of the mother, an abortion may be authorized, if not mandated, by Halacha and should be available to all women irrespective of their economic status. Legislation and court rulings—federally or in any state—that absolutely ban abortion without regard for the health of the mother would literally limit our ability to live our lives in accordance with our responsibility to preserve life.
The extreme polarization around and politicization of the abortion issue does not bode well for a much-needed nuanced result. Human life—the value of everyone created in the Divine Image—is far too important to be treated as a political football.