4 Voices on the 40th: Roe v. Wade Anniversary
By Rabbi Shira Stern and Rabbi Donald A. Weber
In late 1983, we were overjoyed to learn that we were pregnant with our first child. That joy lasted until our four-month checkup, when our obstetrician met us with “that look.” What followed were blood tests, amniocentesis, and finally a high-resolution sonogram which showed that our baby’s internal organs were growing on the outside of her body, and there appeared to be no brain growth at all.
We were blessed to have gentle, caring doctors who did not tell us what to do; they gave us the information that Shira would probably not miscarry, but would carry the baby to term and have it die at birth. They left us to talk with our family, and our rabbis (yes, rabbis have rabbis, too). We talked and cried with our family, and together with our rabbis we delved into Jewish law and responsa about abortion.
We worried about the health risks that are part of any pregnancy, and even more we worried about the psychological impact of continuing the pregnancy. We wondered how we would respond when people asked when Shira was due; would we tell them she was due at the beginning of June, and the funeral would be the next day? We were afraid we would not have the strength to try again after that drawn-out trauma, and yet we truly wanted to create a family together.
Together we chose to have a late-term abortion, because it gave us the greatest chance of being able to have children afterward. We were fortunate to be in an excellent hospital, with wonderful staff who didn’t judge us but helped us through the 37-hour labor and delivery.
During the abortion we turned on the television to distract ourselves, and were assaulted with then-President Reagan promising to stop the “inhuman murderers who callously destroy thousands of unborn babies.” We were shocked, and more than that, we were angry. We were neither callous nor inhuman murderers. We had agonized over our decision, and we were comforted by Judaism’s understanding that a fetus has value, but the life and well-being of the mother take precedence over potential life.
We were so angry that right there – even as the procedure was taking place – we composed a telegram pledging to work as hard as we could to make sure Reagan would not be allowed to fulfill his promise. We have spoken out ever since, in public forums, in the classes, at rallies, in congressional offices and at the L’Taken seminars we attend at the RAC.
We did get pregnant again. Our three sons are now in their 20’s, and a daughter-in-law is part of our family, too. The procedure we had is now illegal in most of the US, and state laws constantly threaten a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, regardless of gestational age.
Sometimes people hear our story and say, “Well, your case is an exception.” Our response is simple: we are grateful we didn’t need your approval – or a court’s, or a legislator’s – to make the choice we made. It was difficult enough.
We are saddened that today, 40 years after Roe v. Wade and 29 years after our abortion, we are still fighting this same battle. But we will not give up fighting. Ever.
Rabbi Don Weber has been the rabbi of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, NJ, since 1984. Rabbi Shira Stern is the director of the Center for Pastoral Care and Counseling in Morganville, NJ, and the Primary School Educator at Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, NJ.
This blog first appeared on the WRJ blog.