WASHINGTON – Jewish leaders, young professionals and activists on Tuesday joined the hundreds of demonstrators outside the Supreme Court demanding the court not overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide.
“The Torah is clear on this issue," National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz told the crowd. "Abortion is not only permitted in Judaism, but in some cases required when the life of the pregnant person is at stake. Restrictive abortion laws, rooted in just one understanding of when life begins, limit our ability to fully practice our religious tradition.”
“Spoiler alert: Jews have abortions. Christians have abortions. Muslims have abortions. People of faith and people of no faith have abortions. And people of faith overwhelmingly support access to healthcare, including abortion,” she added.
Following her remarks, Katz told Haaretz that she was feeling overwhelmed, sad and inspired by the turnout.
“If what was leaked was true,” she said, referring to Politico’s report on the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, “it’s going to be devastating for so many people. One person being forced to be pregnant is one person too many; 36 million people is outrageous.”
Katz, whose organization is perhaps the Jewish group most plugged into the national coalition fighting to preserve reproductive rights, says she expects people to show up and turn their anger into action in the coming days and weeks, noting that thousands of people are protesting throughout the United States.
The “Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice,” spearheaded by NCJW, was already scheduled for Tuesday, May 17, though it undoubtedly will garner growing participation given the report.
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“We were already expecting several hundred people, now we’re getting emails about people bringing in buses from all sorts of places,” Katz said, who noted her excitement at welcoming new people into the fight for reproductive rights as well as mobilizing veteran advocates.
Katz, meanwhile, is calling for all hands on deck in the two weeks leading up to the demonstration, particularly rallying support behind the Women’s Health Protection Act, which will be reintroduced in the Senate and would enshrine Roe v. Wade into law.
While NCJW has been leading the charge, other Jewish organizations and denominations have lent their full-throated support for a woman’s right to choose.
Hadassah President Rhoda Smolow and CEO Naomi Adler called the draft opinion an attack on women’s autonomy, freedom and health.
Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs described in a statement abortion justice as “an economic issue, a racial justice issue and yes, it’s a Jewish issue." He explained, "In Judaism abortion is not just allowed it is also mandated to preserve a pregnant person’s life and well-being,” adding “we will fight for abortion rights with all of our strength.”
The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly denounced the opinion, saying it “supports full access for all those who need abortions to the entire spectrum of reproductive healthcare and opposes all efforts by governmental, private entities, or individuals to limit or dismantle such access.”
“While we must await a formal decision by the court as it relates to this matter, let it be known, in the most concrete terms, that the American Jewish Congress stands by the rights of women everywhere, including their right to have an abortion, should they choose to have one,” the American Jewish Congress said in a statement.
Katz noted that this has been what her organization has been forewarning for months, saying “today, people who were skeptical finally believe us. Roe was never enough; it was the floor, not the ceiling.”
She notes more than 40 Jewish organizations are joining the Jewish Abortion Access Coalition, welcoming the fact that they all bring their own added value.
“Organizations focused on college campuses can focus on sexual assault, where it disproportionately happens, and it means when you cannot get an abortion if you’re raped,” she said, adding “organizations focused on religious freedom can focus on what it means when the Supreme Court dictates when life begins based on one religious interpretation. There are a million different angles and we want to help anyone who wants to take action.”
While Katz was the leading Jewish official at the court, she was hardly the only Jewish presence at the protests. Jewish Democratic Council of America communications associate Benny Stanislawski said he was demonstrating because “the Jewish values that guide my politics tell me that reproductive justice is crucial.”
Stanislawski argued that he is part of an American-Jewish community overwhelmingly in favor of abortion rights, pointing to both the Jewish Electoral Institute’s 2022 National Survey of Jewish Voters’ findings that 75 percent of Jewish voters are concerned about the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the 2018 Pew Research Center survey findings that 83 percent of Jews believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Emma Kretchmer, who is graduating from George Washington University in two weeks, described working within the Jewish space of reproductive rights as her dream.
“This is a fight I’ve been fighting since I was 13 years old, and it’s a fight that has to continue,” she said, noting that “Jewish Americans have long been fighting for the equality of everybody.”
“Jewish values specifically apply to aiding those who need abortion," she added. "Jews need to be not just out about abortion but loud and proud for it."
Kretchmer said she hopes to see that Jewish organizations are not afraid to continue fighting. “We need all Jewish voices – men, women, children, non-binary people, rabbis, cantors – we need them all out here.”