We read Nitzvaim the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah and again on Yom Kippur Morning. In this portion, we are told we have choices, to do good or bad, for our lives to be ones of blessings or curses. The case is made for choosing blessings. Again, we are empowered to make these choices with Moses working hard in this text and other places as God’s advocate, to steer us to make our choices for living up to our covenant with God and Torah and doing the mitzvot, those things which we are obligated to do for ourselves, for others and for God. September 30th this year was not only Rosh Hashanah and the first day of Tishrei. September 30th also marks the 43rd anniversary of the passage of the Hyde Amendment, the policy that bars federal funding for abortion in the United States.
On the federal level, one of the most notable and longstanding restrictions is the Hyde Amendment, which was first passed in 1976 and has been renewed every year since.
The Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal money for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnant person’s life is in danger in all federally administered health care plans such as Medicaid, TRICARE, and Indian Health Service. Many people that are have insurance through these plans, particularly Medicaid, are of low income. Thus, the Hyde Amendment largely and disproportionately impacts low-income people and other individuals with marginalized identities. It is reprehensible that someone would be denied their right to serve as their own moral agent for their reproductive health simply because they are insured by a federal health care plan.
We as Reform Jews support women having choices, bodily integrity, the right to weigh their situation and beliefs and make knowledgeable thought out decisions for themselves and their families.
Our tradition teaches that all life is sacred, and Judaism views the life and well-being of the person who is pregnant as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life.
We learn from Mishnah Ohalot 7:6 that a woman is forbidden from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and if her life is threatened, the text permits her no other option but abortion. In addition, if the mental health, sanity, or self-esteem of the woman (i.e. in the case of rape or incest) is at risk due to the pregnancy itself, the Mishnah permits the woman to terminate the pregnancy. It is due to the fundamental Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances.
The 1975 URJ Resolution on Abortion states, “While recognizing the right of religious groups whose beliefs differ from ours to follow the dictates of their faith in this matter, we vigorously oppose the attempts to legislate the particular beliefs of those groups into the law that governs us all. This is a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
In an environment in which abortion access is becoming ever more restricted, the Hyde Amendment creates additional barriers to abortion access for women, particularly those from communities of color or with low incomes. With the High Holy Days providing an occasion for all of us to think about how we can advance justice and equity in our communities, advocating for reproductive justice – including the repeal of this harmful policy – is part of that equation.
The Equal Access to Abortion in Health Insurance or EACH Woman Act (H.R. 1692/S. 758) was introduced into the 116th session of Congress on March 12, 2019. The EACH Woman Act seeks to repeal the Hyde Amendment, and would guarantee that every person who receives care or insurance through a federal plan or program has coverage for abortion.
If you feel compelled to take action on this matter of women’s health and free agency to make decisions about their own body, please consider urging your member of Congress to support the EACH Woman Act. The EACH Woman Act would end bans on abortion coverage, restoring respect for each woman’s moral agency, ensuring fair treatment no matter her income, and protecting her health and safety.
Parashat Netzavim gives us the choice to act or not to act, to follow our convictions, our Jewish values and our communal interests. Please consider your choice in acting on this matter and advocating for women to have choices in their control as well.
Rabbi Barbara Goldman-Wartell
Temple Concord, Binghamton, NY
Related resources from the RAC and from Planned Parenthood: