Reflecting on the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice

May 24, 2022Maddy Denker

As a young woman, I am frightened by the recent draft Supreme Court opinion that overturns Roe v. Wade. This opinion would abolish 50 years of court precedent that protects our fundamental right to privacy. I am shaken that my ability to make private medical decisions could soon be policed by people who will never experience the circumstances surrounding those decisions. When talking with my father one evening after the opinion was leaked, we discussed how lucky I am that I will be attending university in a state where reproductive health services will remain accessible. This will not be the case for many of my friends who will go to school in states that would impose harsh restrictions or bans if Roe is overturned. That conversation was the wakeup call that I needed to realize the urgency in which we must act. This is an attack that will affect my Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and low-income peers much more than it will affect me, thus it is important that I, as a white person, use my privilege to speak out against this injustice.

I decided that I would encourage my NFTY peers to participate in the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice last week and show those in power that we will not sit silently while they take our rights. Nine other teens from three different states joined me to ensure that our voices would be heard loud and clear: our generation will not stand for this assault, and we will create change. 

I was also joined by my 9-year-old sister who insisted on creating her own sign that said, "My Body, My Rules, My Choice," which embodied the intergenerational aspect of the rally. We need those older than us to provide guidance on what worked in the past, and those younger than us to keep our spirits high. Seeing my sister so confidently hold up her sign and even approach the few counter-protesters inspired me to continue to act on her behalf, so she does not have to grow up fighting these fights. I certainly felt as if I was fighting for a collective future that ensures bodily autonomy. 

The speakers inspired us to continue to think about how this opinion came to be. We had many warning signs that an action like this was likely from the Supreme Court. Heather Booth, founder of the Jane Collective, implored us to go beyond speaking out by creating networks to provide abortion access to those who will live in states where it is inaccessible. 

We also heard the many reasons why Judaism permits and sometimes even requires abortion when the mother's life is at stake. I go to a Jewish day school, and I distinctly remember learning the passage in the Talmud where it says a fetus is mere water, maya b'alma, until 40 days after conception  (Babylonian Talmud, Y'vamot 69b) , and that pikuach nefesh (saving a life) is the greatest mitzvah. There is no question that Judaism supports the right of any person to decide if they want to continue a pregnancy, sometimes even requiring an abortion if the pregnancy endangers the life of the pregnant person. This leaves me to question why, in a country that enshrined religious freedom in the First Amendment, are actions required by my religion being outlawed? Throughout the rally, the constant refrain was to tell the court to reverse their course on this ruling for the sake of our religious liberty, and the lives, health, and human rights of the millions of people who could become pregnant.

As my mom, sister, and I left D.C. and quickly drove back home to Pennsylvania, we knew only half of our job for the day was complete. We immediately went to our polling place so that my mom and I could vote in the important primary elections for our state, where we elected candidates for senate, governor, and a slew of other important local and statewide races. The 2022 elections are particularly important because if the court continues with their plan to wrongfully overturn Roe, elections are one of the only ways to protect abortion access in Pennsylvania. I voted and will vote to elect people who will defend my right to choose. Finally, I closed out the day at the launch of the Every Voice, Every Vote Campaign to mobilize others to do their civic duty.

Our voice is sacred, so I am proud that I can lend my voice to the chorus of those working to strengthen our democracy and protect abortion rights. We cannot be blinded by this threat while we continue to have the power to act. I ask you all to think about what you can do going forward to protect our fundamental rights and pledge to act. Together, through voting, protesting, building our relationships, and all the many other forms of activism, we can create power to bend the arc of the universe towards justice. 

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