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Abortion and Judaism: How the Christianity-fulled abortion debate affects American Jews

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Abortion in the USA is a key political issue driven by its largest religious blocs: Christian voters.

But how does the issue affect the over 7m Jewish citizens of the US, the second largest Jewish settlement in the world? 

This issue was brought to light in a Florida lawsuit filed by a Jewish synagogue against the state’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The lawsuit was filed in state court two weeks ago by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor – ‘Generation to Generation’ in Hebrew – of Boynton Beach synagogue.

It said Florida’s abortion ban, which was signed into law in April, violates the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom.

The lawsuit also stated that the broad privacy protections in Florida’s constitution guarantee abortion rights, citing an earlier ruling by the state’s highest court. 

The right to abortion nationwide was granted by the Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, but a draft ruling leaked last month suggests that the court’s conservative majority is set to overturn that law

Republican-led states have been rapidly passing anti-abortion legislation in anticipation of the eventual ruling, whilst Democrats are moving to pass laws that protect a woman’s right to choose

The Florida law, known as HB 5, criminalises providing abortion care after 15 weeks with exceptions only in cases where the mother and fetus are at risk of death, or irreversible physical impairment. 

This means that the US state will outlaw abortion after 15 weeks in every case, even in cases of rape or incest, where previously state law permitted abortions up to 24 weeks. 

The problem of abortion in Jewish life is both complex and multifaceted, due to the reluctance of Jewish legal authorities to establish a single principle and the increased diversity traditions and practices within Judaism. 

Whilst the word abortion is not written in the Tenakh (the collected 24 books of the Jewish Bible) the guiding principles on abortion law in Jewish tradition show that existing life is sacred and a woman’s life, pain and concerns take precedence over those of a fetus. 

This notion represents a key difference between Christianity and Judaism, wherein Jewish teaching bases abortion allowances on the amount of pain the mother would be in, whereas Christian preachers believe in the sanctity of life above all else. 

And whilst Judaism does not forbid abortion, it states the procedure is only permitted in some cases for serious reasons. 

The lawsuit said: “For Jews, all life is precious and thus the decision to bring new life into the world is not taken lightly or determined by state fiat.

“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.”

This challenge is not set to overhaul Florida’s abortion ban, as a spokesman for Florida Govenor Ron DeSantis said in an email to Reuters: “Our office is confident that this law will ultimately withstand all legal challenges.”

However the lawsuit represents a new face in the battle against HB5 and other state abortion bans, joining pro-choice campaigners. 

A group of Florida abortion providers including affiliates of Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit at the end of last month against the ban, citing a restriction on women’s rights. 

Across the country as a wave of Democratic anti-abortion legislation reinvigorates the fight over abortion rights, Jewish leaders and activists are speaking out in favour of choice.

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