Following the Guttmacher Institute’s report earlier this year indicating that more restrictive anti-choice bills were passed in the states between 2011-2013 (205 laws, to be exact) than the preceding ten years (189 laws), our eyes turned to 2014 with hope that the momentum would slow and such laws would cease to be considered. Unfortunately, 2014 is not boding well for choice in the states – at least so far. Earlier this week, Georgia and Alabama passed very restrictive laws that will significantly limit a woman’s access to abortion services.
The Georgia Senate passed a law banning all insurers – private insurers – from covering abortion services on health care plans, reducing the right to choose to a woman’s ability to pay for an abortion out of pocket. This bill, SB 98, has no exceptions for rape or incest, and a limited exception for life of the mother.
The Alabama House passed a package of four anti-choice laws, the most controversial of which was a ban on abortion after a detectable fetal heartbeat. This law, like the one from Georgia, has no exceptions for rape or incest. A heartbeat is detectable at five or six weeks of gestation, often before many women know they are pregnant. This bill, if passed by the Alabama Senate, would in essence ban abortion in the state.
Debate on this bill was heated, lengthy and often racially charged. The primary sponsor of the bill, Mary McClurkin, likened the legislation to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down segregation in schools in 1954. The analogy being that the “Fetal Heartbeat Bill” would correct discrimination against fetuses enshrined under Roe v. Wade, the way that Brown overturned Plessy v. Ferguson.
The other bills passed in the Alabama House would extend the waiting period to access an abortion from 24 to 48 hours, require women carrying fetuses unlikely to live long out of the womb to hear about “fetal hospice” services and would set in place more obstacles for minors who have chosen to terminate their pregnancy with or without parental notification or involvement. All together, these bills significantly restrict a woman’s right to choose. So much so, in fact, that choice itself seems like a mirage.
Judaism teaches that all life is sacred. Although an unborn fetus is precious and to be protected, Judaism views the life and well-being of the mother as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life. Women are commanded to care for their own health and well-being above all else. Therefore, there are several instances when Judaism not only condones abortions, but they are mandated.
As Reform Jews, we are deeply troubled by the developments in Georgia and Alabama. Although much of the fight to preserve choice is happening on the state and local levels, Congress is considering legislation that could also dramatically limit a woman’s right to choose.
Urge your Representatives to vote against the Parental Notification and Intervention Act of 2013! This bill would require all minors to get parental consent before obtaining an abortion, followed by a 96-hour waiting period, with very few exceptions. You should also urge your Senators to oppose the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.