by Joanna Blotner
RCRC Public Policy Manager
I am proud of the rich theology of my Jewish faith which has for millennia firmly stood in solidarity with a woman who faces a problem pregnancy, valuing her health, inherent dignity, and physical and mental well being above all else. Like most Americans, I believe that it is critically important for a woman to have access to safe, legal, affordable and compassionate abortion care. I further believe that my faith requires me to work to preserve and expand access to this care, standing in solidarity with all women and families facing difficult emotional and economic circumstances surrounding a pregnancy at any stage.
This is why I am so deeply disturbed by the actions of so many Members of Congress seeking to ban access to abortion care and services after 20 weeks gestation – a time at which no woman makes the decision to end a pregnancy lightly.
Proponents of H.R.1797, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” prioritize the potential life of a fetus over that of a woman, a position almost always in in conflict with centuries of established Jewish law. No woman should be forced to give birth against her will. This is an unconscionable burden to ask of a woman – particularly if she has been informed late in her pregnancy that the fetus she carries is not viable and that continuing the pregnancy will pose a risk to her health, as was the case of a dear friend of mine a few years ago.
It is telling that Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) did not make even a single reference to a woman, her family, or her situation in a press release announcing that he would be expanding the focus of H.R.1797 from the District of Columbia to a nationwide ban. It is also deeply ironic that of the 185 cosponsors of this legislation, only 56 voted to alleviate harm and pain to women and families by helping pass the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year. In 2009, when presented with the opportunity to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program and support children experiencing pain due to illness or injury, of those cosponsors in Congress at the time, 81% chose to DENY protection and care to those children in need. VAWA and CHIP are the types of policies that affirm, value, protect and support healthy families; these are the types of policies rejected by H.R.1797’s supporters. The hypocrisy is glaring – and shameful.
Congressman Franks and his allies supporting this bill, like all Americans, are free to have and share their own religious beliefs about issues related to pregnancy and parenting. Liberty is an American value. However, we must not fool ourselves into thinking this bill seeks to protect women, children or families, as its supporters claim. H.R. 1797 is a clear attempt to impose one extreme and uncompromising religious belief about abortion on the whole nation, without taking into consideration the often complex circumstances in which the decision to end a pregnancy is being made. It is a gross violation of Constitutionally protected liberties and religious freedom.
H.R. 1797 privileges the pain that a fetus might feel over the physical pain and mental anguish a woman has in making the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. That decision, no matter the stage of the pregnancy, should be left to a woman in consultation with her family, her doctor, and her faith – not politicians bent on forcing a narrow religious view on all Americans.