A Jewish synagogue in Florida has challenged a restrictive new 15-week abortion ban in Florida, arguing that it violates their freedom of religion.
Florida’s abortion ban, set to go into effect in July, would prevent abortion after 15 weeks with only a few exceptions, such as if the life of the mother is at risk.
It does not include a provision allowing abortion for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
Now, Congregation L'Dor Va-Dor is challenging the new law in Florida courts, arguing that a Jewish woman’s access to an abortion is not only an important right, but one mandated by Jewish teachings.
Do they have a case?
The lawsuit contends that Florida's law tramples religious freedom by violating Jewish faith beliefs. The argument reads in part:
“In Jewish law, abortion is necessary if required to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the women or for many other reasons not permitted [by Florida's abortion law]. As such, the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom."
"Jewish law does not consider life to begin at conception or at 15 weeks and most Jews… do not believe that all the rights of personhood are conferred upon a fetus.”
This challenge on religious grounds is a move that many saw coming. When the initial draft that would reverse Roe v. Wade was leaked out last month, experts pointed out that some Jews interpret passages from the Torah to mean mandating abortion if the mental or physical health of the pregnant woman is at risk.
The most common passage cited is Exodus 21:22-23, which details the injury of a pregnant woman that results in a miscarriage. The verse states that if the pregnant woman is injured, the penalty must be blood, but if the only harm committed is the miscarriage, then only a fine must be levied.
According to the National Council of Jewish Women, “the common rabbinical interpretation of this verse is that the men did not commit murder and that the fetus is not a person.”
Because abortion bans are so closely tied with Christian teachings that hold abortion is morally wrong, the lawsuit sets up an interesting showdown between Christian and Jewish beliefs.
When it comes to religious freedom, which set of beliefs will win out?
Pro-choice activists argue that restrictive abortion laws represent the unconstitutional imposition of Christian supremacy. By favoring the biblical interpretation that life begins at conception, the law steamrolls and ignores other faiths that interpret things differently.
And for the organizers of the lawsuit, it’s hard not to see something more sinister at play. The synagogue's lawsuit explains:
“The Jewish people have often borne the brunt of the horrors that occur when the power of Christianity has merged with the power of the state. The result has been Inquisitions, Crusades, ghettoes and pogroms for the Jews and the eventual loss of freedom for everyone else.
The architects of the Act have taken a first step towards… returning the state of Florida and our nation back to a time when the merger of Christianity and government produced genocide, slavery, misogyny, and the denial of equal rights and in many cases, any rights at all to those who did not share the gender, race or religion of those in power.”
Those are some pretty major alarm bells that the plaintiffs are ringing.
But political leaders in Florida see things differently – they say they're confident the law will withstand all legal challenges.
What is your take?