Opinion: Anti-abortion laws violate my religious rights

Anti-abortion advocates often portray sacred scripture as a bastion of anti-abortion ideals. But I read the same Old Testament that they do, and I see a markedly different perspective. The equally significant pro-choice position that is inherent within my Jewish faith isn’t often a part of the conversation, and it’s time for that to change.

In Torah — specifically, in the book of Exodus — we discover the following, hypothetical scenario:

“If two men are physically fighting one another, and in the process of their dispute, they accidentally push over a pregnant woman who happens to be passing by, and if that pregnant woman miscarries as a result of her fall, do the men need to provide compensation for the loss of human life?” (Exodus 21:22)

In other words, does the pregnant woman’s miscarriage indicate the loss of human life — and, if so, do the men need to pay or be punished, accordingly?

Significantly, the biblical text says no. Significantly, biblical text concludes that should this scenario ever occur, the men must only be held responsible for any injuries to the woman’s body. In other words, according to the bible, a fetus is not a person. Rather, according to the bible, full personhood begins at viable birth.

Based on this ruling, centuries of subsequent Jewish discourse regard the fetus as part of the mother’s body up until the moment the fetus emerges from the womb, and, thus, consistently prioritize a pregnant person’s life, health and well-being above the life and well-being of the fetus she is carrying. In the Mishnah, the collection of first and second century rabbinic writings, we read: “If a woman is in hard (physical) labor that threatens her life … her life comes before its life.” Further Jewish resolutions expand this principal by justifying abortion when pregnancy threatens a pregnant person’s mental health, as well.

With these faith-based concepts in mind, “pro-life” is another idea worthy of lifting and reclaiming from the footholds of the religious right. Because, indeed, my bible also tells me to be “pro-life” and to “choose life.” My bible tells me to choose and support and prioritize the lives of those who are already here, walking this earth, right here, right now. Because in Judaism, we, too, choose life. We choose the life of the pregnant person struggling to work two jobs while supporting a family. We choose the life of the rape victim. We choose the lives of women and girls with hopes and dreams and aspirations of their own. We choose the lives of all the children out of the womb who need our attention and care. We choose the life of the person who has conceived.

Simply put: according to my faith, abortion is permissible, abortion is justifiable, and, in some instances, abortion is explicitly mandatory. To that end, anti-abortion laws prohibit Jewish individuals from practicing our faith and upholding our religious values. Laws pronouncing that life begins at conception, and/or laws that confer “personhood” onto a fetus, all defy the Constitution’s Establishment Clause by solidifying one religious view into law. And so, as a Jewish person and a religious leader, of these things I am sure: the pro-choice underpinnings of sacred scripture, and the religious freedoms embedded within our nation’s core. The anti-abortion decrees violate them all.

Rabbi Sarah Marion serves Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire congregation.