Recently, I traveled to Albany to join with a group of lay persons and clergy from Reform Jewish Voice of New York State, representing 100 Reform congregations, to urge our lawmakers to support Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda.
As religious people we believe that our sisters need our full support. The Governor’s 10-point plan will break down barriers that perpetuate discrimination and inequality based on gender. The Governor’s 10-Point proposal will: 1) protect a woman’s freedom of reproductive choice, 2) achieve pay equity, 3) stop sexual harassment in all workplaces, 4) allow for the recovery of attorneys’ fees in employment and credit and lending cases, 5) strengthen human trafficking laws, 6) end family status discrimination, 7) stop source-of-income discrimination, 8) stop housing discrimination for victims of domestic violence, 9) stop pregnancy discrimination once and for all, and 10) protect victims of domestic violence by strengthening order-of-protection laws. Across our state there is broad support for nine provisions of the proposed legislation. Only the protection of a woman’s reproductive choice stirs controversy.
No one is happy about abortion. Sometimes life presents us with circumstances for which there are no good choices. Though we would like to arrange our lives neatly, though we wish that difficult choices did not come our way, this is not always possible.
We know that no one, least of all the individual women who make the choice to discontinue a pregnancy, gladly or glibly or easily advocates for the legal right to abortion. Those who act within the parameters of law and seek an abortion do so because they must. They always act with a heavy heart, for the choices they make are the toughest choices any human being can make. Not choices between one vacation spot and another or choices between one color car and another — rather saddening, maddening choices between a potential person and an existing person.
Judaism teaches us that the decision for choice is nuanced and difficult. Honest people, serious people, men and women who support Roe v. Wade, never do so lightly. They struggle. They tread softly because there are lives at stake here and because they know that all life is ultimately sacred. The right to decide about abortion must remain the personal decision of each family or woman.
Although I am convinced personhood does not begin at conception and I learn that from reading the Torah and the teachings of our sages, I will not make anyone else read the Bible as I do or believe as I do. Others can, and do, read it their way with great passion. Let them respect my interpretation and my religious beliefs.
My understanding of free choice is that the right to choose is a God-given right with which persons are endowed. Without choice, life becomes a meaningless routine and humans become robots. Freedom of choice is what makes us human and responsible. For women, the preeminent freedom is the choice to control her reproductive process. We must reinvigorate our efforts to protect this religious freedom, a woman’s right of reproductive choice.
The Women’s Equality Agenda seeks to establish justice for women as whole persons. This means we support our sisters need equality in the workplace and protections from any type of gender-based discrimination or sexual abuse; it also demands that we support their right to choose. Without reproductive justice, there is no social justice for women. I urge legislators to respect that fact and to trust women’s intelligence and integrity and enact the entire Women’s Equality Agenda.