American Jews 'outraged' over Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade overturn

"Violates our rights as Jews to freely practice our religion" • "A direct violation of American values and Jewish tradition"

 People protest the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade abortion decision in New York City, New York, US, June 24, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/CAITLIN OCHS)
People protest the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade abortion decision in New York City, New York, US, June 24, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CAITLIN OCHS)

American Jewish organizations condemned the US Supreme Court's Friday decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman's constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide.

The National Council of Jewish Women vowed to “continue to fight” following the overturning of Roe vs Wade.

CEO Sheila Katz said the decision is a “moral failure” that will “put lives at risk.”

“By overturning 50 years of precedent, safe and vital abortion care is now virtually inaccessible to millions of people who need it. In the weeks and months ahead, we will see the devastating impact this ruling will have on human lives.”

“This egregious decision is a direct violation of both our American values and our Jewish tradition,” Katz continued. “Reversing the protections of Roe defies logic, morality, compassion and the fundamental right of all Americans to practice their religious beliefs without interference from the government.”

 A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest outside the US Supreme Court, after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, US, May 3, 20 (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN) A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest outside the US Supreme Court, after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, US, May 3, 20 (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

The Women’s Rabbinic Network, a constituent of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, in a statement pledged continued support for women seeking an abortion, and for those providing the service.

“We fully support those who have sought and are seeking abortion care and will continue to advocate for a world where they are able to do so safely, wherever they are, without fear of retribution,” it said. “We pray for the safety and well-being of the abortion care providers and health care workers who will be forced to decide what they are willing to risk in order to serve their patients and communities in places where abortion is now illegal.”

Ensuring Maryland's abortion rights

WITHIN MINUTES of the court decision, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington said that it was ready to assist such actions: Maryland, one of the JCRC’s constituent states, has liberal abortion laws and is the closest state to a number of states that do not.

“We will work in coalition to ensure that the state is prepared to welcome and serve the thousands of additional women who will travel to our state to seek medical care and exercise reproductive rights,” the JCRC said in a statement.

The Washington DC-area JCRC said it would push back against further restrictions on abortion access in Virginia, and it would lobby to keep Congress, which has a degree of jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, from imposing abortion restrictions on an overwhelmingly liberal population there that rejects such restrictions.

Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON, a Jewish-American nonprofit working to end hunger in the US and Israel, argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling is a “matter of economic injustice.”

The decision also portends profound differences among Orthodox groups over how to function in a post-Roe world. The haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America welcomed the decision, while the Orthodox Union stood by its statement from May, when a draft version of the decision was leaked, saying that the umbrella group could neither “mourn or celebrate” the reversal of the 1973 ruling.

But most American Jews back abortion access and Jewish groups have already taken steps to counter the decision after the draft decision was leaked.

A number of Orthodox groups and figures argue that liberal Jewish groups overstate the protections Jewish law offers to pregnant women. These groups argue that state laws with exemptions considering the life of the mother are adequate and that abortion under Roe vs Wade as was constituted, devalues life.

The statement from Aguda, the umbrella group for haredi Orthodox synagogues and organizations, wholeheartedly endorsed the Roe vs Wade reversal as a celebration of life.

“Agudath Israel of America welcomes this historic development,” a statement said. “We pray that today’s ruling will inspire all Americans to appreciate the moral magnitude of the abortion issue, and to embrace a culture that celebrates life.”

Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president, said in an interview that states excluding mental health from the abortion calculus, as Georgia does, would be a cause for concern.

“Absolutely, when there will be mental health issues that impact the life of the mother” abortion should be allowed, “and, yes, in that event we would we would be concerned about that,” he said.

But he added that the court’s decision was an opportunity to consider the value of life in a number of spheres.

“You know, there are definitely concerns,” he said. “But there may also be an opportunity here to shift the discussion of life to a more responsible space.”

Protests against the overturning of Roe v. Wade

THOUSANDS OF protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon, shortly after the decision to overturn Roe vs Wade was released.

“I live in DC, so I’ve been at protests before,” said Kendall Simons who works at a local think tank. “This one was pretty different because the severity of the news and the consequences are really disheartening, especially thinking about my family back in Idaho,” she said. “I have two young sisters that live there, and so just the consequences on that front is hard for me to fathom.”

“What I hope happens is that this is a call to action for people to organize, particularly women, around the country, recognizing that there may be people [who] didn’t expect that this would happen or that Roe wouldn’t be gutted completely,” she said. “And so I’m hoping that this is a good call for women to mobilize.”

Johanna Marks, a DC resident, attended the protest as well. “I was waiting to hear the decision,” she said. “We knew it was coming and when I saw it this morning, I knew I wanted to come down this afternoon to protest.”

“I wanted to come down here to share my feelings and I wanted there to be a forceful declaration from the city and from women in the city about how we feel about this,” said Marks. “I think we’re stuck with [this decision] until the makeup of the court changes. And I think that’s going to be a long time coming, and now the fight’s gonna be at the state level.”

“I’m not optimistic, I think in the long term this country moves towards what’s just, but not today. Hopefully, we’ll get there again,” she said.

Jennifer Heckendorn is a social worker from Michigan who happened to be in town. “We’re [members of] the national association of social workers. We’re here for a national conference and this happened while we’re in the middle of our conference. So, we ditched our conference and walked over here,” she said.

Samantha Carducci, a fellow social worker who joined Heckendorn, said: “It’s a huge issue for social workers. We’re the ones that provide services to women that have been sexually assaulted, that deal with unintended pregnancies and that need help to navigate.”

She went on to say that despite the spike in inflation and the fear of recession, the issue of reproductive rights will be a main topic in the midterm election. “Inflation is horrible, but inflation comes and goes, but taking away women’s rights, that’s a bridge too far. They’ve gone too far,” she said.

Oscar Soto from Falls, Church, Virginia, held a sign that read: “Today we protest, tomorrow we vote.”

“I’m always a big believer in follow-through,” he said. “We need to protest, we need to be angry. We need to let people know we’re angry. And then after that, we have to show up at the ballot box.”

Speaking about the upcoming midterms elections, he said: “There’s no way a woman can overcome inflation if she’s forced to have a child that she can’t afford; there’s no way that we can worry about an economy that was already hopeless before there was inflation.”

“The reality is going to be the reality before Roe was a thing – we’re not stopping abortions, we’re stopping safe abortions,” he said. “We’re stopping women from being able to safely handle their own healthcare and handle their own ability to make the choices they need that are best for their own health.”

Reuters contributed to this report.