Reaffirming our Commitment to Reproductive Rights Post-Dobbs

BACKGROUND:

Research shows time and time again how important access to reproductive healthcare is to the development of a healthy and thriving country. Since the decision in Dobbs County v. Jackson Women’s Health Clinic (2022), people around the U.S. have dealt with extreme limitations on their access to abortion services as well as other reproductive healthcare.

WRJ Involvement

WRJ has been involved in the fight for reproductive freedom for several years, issuing our first resolution about reproductive freedom in Birth Control Literature (1935) and acknowledging the necessity of abortion access for the first time in Judaism and the Family (1965).

As Reform Jews, we are called to stand for abortion access. Our Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of kavod ha’briyot, or respect for individual dignity. This core belief means we must uphold bodily autonomy as an inalienable right and continue to fight for access to abortion as well as other forms of reproductive healthcare. 

Our scholars teach us that if a woman’s labor becomes life threatening, she must have an abortion, “For her life comes before the life of the fetus.” (Mishna Ohalot 7:6) Additionally we are taught that providing healthcare is an obligation for the whole of society; Maimonides, a revered Jewish scholar, identified care for the sick as the most important communal service that a city can offer its residents. (Mishen Torah, Sefer Hamadda 4:23) 

79% of American Jews believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.[1] WRJ firmly agrees with this stance, and as a result of current events has doubled down on our advocacy for reproductive healthcare, knowing that the situation is tenuous for many across North America.

The Importance of Abortion Access

Research shows time and again how crucial access to abortion and reproductive healthcare is to maintain a thriving society. Studies have shown that legalized abortion is correlated with lower crime rates.[2] Access to abortion is also correlated with decreasing rates of childhood neglect and abuse[3] and reduces the number of children living in poverty.[4] Access to abortion also improves the long run outcomes of generations of children, increasing their likelihood of attending college and reducing their likelihood of living in poverty and receiving public assistance as adults.[5]

Access to abortion is also life-changing for those who seek out the procedure. Access to abortion decreases the number of teen mothers by 34% and the number of teen brides by 20%.[6] Abortion access also increases educational attainment, labor force participation, and earnings of women. 

Public opinion is also on the side of reproductive rights. 60% of Americans believe that overturning Roe v. Wade was a “bad thing”.[7] 83% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in at least a few circumstances. More people than ever before are identifying as “pro-choice”.

However, perhaps most importantly, access to abortion and reproductive rights are a necessary part of healthcare. Most medical matters are decisions made by patients in consultation with their doctors— abortion should be no different. 

A History of Access to Reproductive Healthcare in the North America

Access to reproductive healthcare has long been debated within the U.S. Starting in the 1870s, Comstock laws prevented access to reproductive services by outlawing distribution of “contraceptives, abortifacients, obscene materials” and more. Not until Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) were Comstock laws deemed unconstitutional, and the rights of married couples to buy and use contraceptives were protected.[8] A few years later, Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) established that unmarried individuals had the same right to contraceptives as married couples.[9]

In 1973, the landmark case of Roe v. Wade was decided, ensuring that abortion was legal across the U.S. However, legal does not necessarily mean accessible.[10]Gaps in the Roe decision and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) allowed for states to restrict abortion in a number of ways, including state-mandated counseling, waiting periods, parental involvement and consent laws, gestational limits, and targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws.[11] These restrictions do nothing except make the process of getting an abortion more legally contentious and dangerous.

The biggest blow came with the decision in Dobbs County v. Jackson Women’s Health Clinic (2022), the case that overturned Roe. In that decision, the majority argued that Roe had been an overreach and abortion rights should be determined by the states.[12] Since then, access to abortion in the country has become a patchwork. While some states have strengthened their protections, others have banned it outright. Emboldened by their victory, anti-abortion groups have since worked to restrict access to healthcare even further. This year, the Supreme Court heard FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (2024) which determined the immediate future of mifepristone and medication abortion, one of the only ways for those in states that have banned abortion to access it.

Even in places where abortion remains legal, it is not always accessible. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the federal law criminalizing abortion as unconstitutional, and since then no legislation has been put in place to replace it. However, province governments decide where people can access abortion and what services are exempt from publicly funded provincial healthcare plans.[13] Those who live in rural areas also often have difficult accessing abortion, both because of low funding for local healthcare establishments and because of sheer distance.[14]

Access to Abortion Today

Since the Dobbs decision, abortion has been completely banned in 13 states. Those seeking abortions are forced to travel extreme distances and pay higher costs to obtain the services they need. 23 states are identified as having policies that are restrictive, very restrictive, or most restrictive when it comes to access to reproductive healthcare.

Research shows that restrictive abortion laws do nothing but endanger the health and safety of people involved. Before the Dobbs decision allowed for the complete ban of abortion, research showed that states with more restrictive abortion laws had higher maternal morbidity rates. This is no coincidence; the states that have the most restrictive abortion laws also have higher Black populations, who are disproportionately affected by America’s maternal health crisis. Additionally, navigating the patchwork of different state restrictions can only make getting an abortion more difficult; parental consent and judicial bypass processes, if they take too long, can be the difference in whether an abortion is legal or not under state guidelines.

Since bans and extreme restrictions have gone into place, self-managed medication abortions have been one of the only ways people in any state can access abortion, However, all that could soon change. In FDA v. Hippocratic Alliance for Medicine (2024), the Supreme Court decided that mifepristone, one of two medications commonly used in a medication abortion, could remain legal for now but explicitly leaves the door open for future challenges. This would be a huge set back in maintaining any semblance of abortion access in the U.S. Without mifepristone, which has a 99% safety rate, self-managed abortions would become significantly more dangerous. Legislators have also started attacks on birth control, conflating them with abortions.

Therefore, Women of Reform Judaism commits to and calls upon its sisterhoods, women’s groups, and individual members to:

1.    Acknowledge that the fight for reproductive freedoms, abortion access, and bodily autonomy is not the same across locations and requires different actions depending on where you are; and while acknowledging that,

2.    Urge elected officials to:
a. Pass policies protecting the right to an abortion and reproductive healthcare across the United States and Canada.
b. Pass policies ensuring medication abortion, including mifepristone, will remain legal and accessible.
c. Pass policies to ensure birth control remains legal and accessible.
d. Pass policies overturning the Hyde Amendment to ensure that abortions can be covered by federal funds including federal health insurance.

3.    Urge state/provincial and municipal elected officials to:
a. Pass policies to protect access to abortion within their state/province.
b. Pass policies to ensure medication abortion, including mifepristone, will be available in their state/province.
c. Ensure sex-education in states includes medically accurate and unbiased information about abortion access, birth control, and sexual health.

4.    Advance policy recommendations listed above by:
a. Get involved in local and statewide campaigns to ensure access to abortion through ballot measures.
b. Advocate directly to elected officials on all levels to protect access to reproductive healthcare.
c. Encouraging pro-choice and pro-access members and sisters to run for office.

5.    Partner with and donate to national, state, provincial, and local organizations that are already working on issues of reproductive rights, including:
a. Groups working on advancing legislative and state policy to protect abortion access, such as: Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Freedom for All, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and more.
b. Groups working to financially and materially support those who must travel out of state for abortions, such as the National Network of Abortion Funds, and connect with local abortion funds to volunteer to house, transport, and assist patients as needed.
c. Groups working to protect reproductive freedoms in other ways such as Days for Girls, Advocates for Youth, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Center for Transgender Equality

6.    Implementing sisterhood and/or congregational programs on reproductive health and rights, including on issues of abortion access, the importance of comprehensive sex education, menstrual equity, and more.