In the last two years of my seminar training, 1970-1972, I was part of a small group of students at the Hebrew Union College (HUC) that were trained at a local church to provide counseling to young women who had become pregnant and were trying to determine next steps. The group that trained us was the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancy. I was at HUC in Cincinnati. This was before Roe-Wade was passed. We provided counseling and discussed options that were available to the young women. If their decision was to seek termination of their pregnancy, the organization helped them find a location where the procedure was to be done in a safe and controlled manor. Most the women I saw in these years were young women, from southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and, a few from eastern Indiana. It was in conversations with these women that they discussed the ways that they became pregnant, often non- consensual; and some of the horrible ways that were tried to self- abort.
I could not help but think back to those days this past weekend as the nation reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision. We may now see the re-birth of such groups as the Consultation Service. What we will see is an increasingly politicized media and cable TV feeding frenzy around the issue, at least for a few weeks until the country tires of the non-stop debate. After all, our tolerance for intense discussion on serious issues continues to decrease and, now that summer is here and the economy is struggling; well, we can only handle so much!
The Jewish approaches to Abortion are well documented. The “proof” texts in Exodus and the Mishnah provide the tradition’s textual foundation. Of course, those texts were written way before medical technology’s advances in fetal screening and before the issue became a political football in American politics. Just wait until November.
This of us who read this, we are older and, no doubt some of us know women who have chosen, for a variety of reasons, to terminate a pregnancy. Maybe it is our wife or grand-daughter. For those who have walked this walk all know that this is not a decision arrived at lightly. But, Judaism is, as we have written and taught many times, a religious civilization that does look at and takes into consideration the context of a situation. That is one of our greatest gifts. We understand that there are circumstances that shape a decision and those circumstances must be considered. In our more liberal community, the notion of choice and autonomy is prized. Indeed, medical technology has raised the issue of choice to a great degree. We know more facts about a case and thus, we may have more options in making choices; choices shaped by our own experience and circumstances. That is something that is missing now. We exist in emotional and political and cultural silos. The more we allow this, the less tolerant we become. We have, lamentable, lost the ability to co-exist in honest disagreement. We now are paying the price.
My experience at HUC and with the Clergy service confirmed my belief in the need for a person to have the right to make a choice about their medical care and life. The SCOTUS decision will not stop women from making choices. Yes, it will be harder for many, especially those of socio-economic classes that do not have the money or means to realize that choice. This is another example of the growing inequality of our health care system.
Last week, I was honored to be able to attend an award ceremony that marked the move of my grandson from his school to the next level school. At about the same time that the school’s principal asked my grandson and another classmate to come forward to lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance, my phone noted that the decision had come down. I looked at the phone as the group pronounced “with liberty and justice for all”. This is still a hope rather than a reality. There is work to do to make this a reality. Our generation again has a choice. The work of equity is on-going. Vigilance is the price of freedom and our children and grandchildren are watching.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.