Statement on Reproductive Rights & Abortion Rights

25 Sivan 5782 | June 24, 2022
The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis condemns the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, and reiterates its strong commitment to reproductive rights for all people, including the right to decide whether to end a pregnancy through abortion.  Our view is that the fundamental questions of life and death are beyond the scope of the legislative process.  The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom for each of us to express our most deeply held faith claims. These views often differ sharply with those of our neighbors. But as Americans we know that the government of the United States will not impose one narrow, ecclesiastically defined specific view on these ultimate questions. It is the free choice of free people to exercise their own divine wisdom in seeking the best path for their lives. Decisions around pregnancy are deeply personal, and every individual woman must be trusted as a moral adult with full human agency. We affirm the rights of women and girls to make decisions about their own bodies. Legislatures, courts and judges are no replacement for the grappling of individuals as they face unique circumstances.  Pregnancy always presents challenges. Be they economic, emotional or physical, facing these challenges involves a profound physical burden. And for some, it involves the danger even of death. It is intolerable to imagine that in a free society, a person could be instructed by the state to face these risks because a specific religious tradition believes they must. 

This point of view is held widely across the spectrum of Jewish thought. While some will disagree within the Jewish community on these ultimate questions, our traditional sources could not be clearer.  The life of a fetus is not yet a full human life. (Exodus 21:22-23; Rashi on Sanhedrin 72b)  For much of the term of pregnancy, a fetus is considered to be equivalent to a body part of the mother (Talmud, Yevamot 69b; Hullin 58).  If forced to choose between the life of the mother and the unborn, we always preserve the life of the mother. (Mishna Oholot 7:6). And many hold that the wellbeing of the mother, including her emotional welfare, is a sufficient cause to be lenient in recommending abortion. (R. Jacob Emden, R. Yehuda Perilman). 

Jewish tradition continues to be very concerned that the paramount priority, the life of the mother, should never be endangered or lost in a misguided attempt to protect the fetus.  In the past weeks statements of concern have been reiterated by the Reform Movement the Conservative Movement , the Reconstructionist Movementand the Orthodox Union.  

In addition to these concerns about the separation of religion and state in our country, and with regard to Jewish law’s teachings about the permissibility of abortion, we are also aware that the decision to curtail abortion rights in the United States will have profound and disproportionate impact on poor people, and especially people of color, who cannot afford access where abortion will still be permitted. Limiting abortion rights is therefore also a wider issue of justice, in which Judaism demands that we protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

We are united in our insistence that the freedom of religious belief and practice, and the equal standing of women before the law, requires that our country maintain faith with its past holdings on reproductive choice.