Religion, particularly the influence of Christian conservatives, has been at the heart of the anti-abortion movement and the push to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion throughout the United States.
But a lawsuit filed last week by a South Florida synagogue challenges new legislation in the state banning most abortions after 15 weeks, saying it violates the State Constitution’s right to privacy and freedom of religion. In Jewish law, the suit argues, “abortion is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman.”
The lawsuit, filed by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, a progressive synagogue in Palm Beach County not affiliated with a broader denomination, may face an uphill climb in court. But it is a reminder that abortion poses religious issues beyond those of the Christian right. And it suggests potential legal issues that could surface at a time when Roe seems likely to be overturned, and the Supreme Court has been aggressively open to a wider role for religion in public and political life.
challenged earlier this month by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on behalf of a group of abortion providers and abortion rights organizations.
2014 Pew Research survey found that of more than 800 Jews surveyed, 83 percent said that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. In May, hundreds of Jews from varying movements rallied outside the U.S. Capitol in support of abortion rights. The 2022 National Survey of Jewish Voters conducted by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that 75 percent of Jews said they were concerned the Supreme Court would overturn Roe.
Among Orthodox Jews, the issue is more nuanced, said Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. Abortion is necessary if a mother faces grave physical or psychological harm, he said, but is not permitted because of “simple difficulty” or a “belief in the right to choose.”
“Jewish law believes we have an incredible responsibility to life and even to potential life,” he said.
Andrew Shirvell, the founder and executive director for Florida Voice for the Unborn, an anti-abortion group based in Tallahassee, said the lawsuit was merely a “publicity stunt” based on “pretty frivolous” arguments.
“This is one synagogue in Palm Beach County,” he said. “They certainly don’t speak for all Jews in Florida, or even the Jewish religion.”