Last week New York State passed the Reproductive Health Act Legislation, which expanded the state’s abortion laws. The bill allows women to have an abortion without restriction up to the 24th week of pregnancy. After that, the bill allows abortion when the life or health of the mother is threatened, or the fetus is determined to be not viable.
Orthodox Jewish groups reacted to the measure. Below are their statements.
Young Israel: NY’s New Abortion Law Is Not Kosher
The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) blasted New York State’s new law which allows late-term abortions. The Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which was overwhelmingly approved by the NYS Senate and Assembly last week, was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo shortly thereafter.
Before the RHA was enacted, NYS only allowed abortions to be performed past the 24th week of a pregnancy if there was a risk to the mother’s life by continuing the pregnancy.
“New York State’s Reproductive Health Act is a moral morass and a step in the wrong direction,” said NCYI President Farley Weiss. “The new law makes no distinction as to the viability of the fetus when allowing late-term abortions, and will inevitably lead to an upsurge of abortions in the second and third trimesters, when the fetus is viable. With approximately one-quarter of all pregnancies in New York State ending with an abortion, Governor Cuomo and the legislature just opened the door for that frightening number to increase significantly. With its ethical shortcomings and alarming stipulations, the Reproductive Health Act is categorically not kosher.”
The National Council of Young Israel noted that the RHA runs counter to former President Barack Obama’s national vision ‘to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.’
“We see no reason for the governor and legislature to rejoice at the RHA’s passage, which will result in additional abortions occurring in New York State,” added Weiss. “Enabling the termination of more pregnancies and facilitating further opportunities to perform abortions when the fetus is viable is certainly not a cause for celebration. As the number of abortions performed in the United States continues to decline, a trend that held true throughout President Obama’s time in office, New York State took the dubious step of enacting a law that is diametrically opposed to the nationwide goal of reducing abortions.”
Statement of Agudath Israel of America
on the NY Reproductive Health Act
In a move designed to maintain and even exceed the sanctioning of abortion in the event the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn its longstanding Roe v. Wade decision, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) into law.
The law removes the need for a doctor to perform some abortions, moves abortion from the criminal code into the realm of public health issues and allows abortions up to birth where a doctor or midwife deems the fetus not viable, or its mother’s health threatened in some way.
Agudath Israel is long on record in opposing Roe v. Wade. We decry this even more life-unfriendly legislation.
In line with its support for religious freedom, Agudath Israel opposes initiatives that would make abortion unlawful even in situations where termination of pregnancy is mandated by religious law – as it is, for example, under Jewish law when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. However, it is not necessary to make all abortions permissible in order to protect the rare instance when abortion is truly indicated.
Jewish tradition teaches that a human fetus has status and dignity, and that abortion is prohibited in the vast majority of pregnancies. But even beyond that tradition, it should be apparent to all that termination of pregnancy raises profound moral concerns. Sadly, New York’s new law pays no heed to those concerns.
RCA Opposes New York State’s
Reproductive Health Act
The Rabbinical Council of America, the leading membership organization of orthodox rabbis in North America, strongly opposes parts of The Reproductive Health Act, New York State’s recently adopted legislation on abortion.
The New York law permits abortion when “the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” In addition, the new law moves the section of state law dealing with abortion from the penal code to health statutes.
Jewish law opposes abortion, except in cases of danger to the mother. Most authorities consider feticide an act of murder; others deem it an act akin to the murder of potential life. There are Jewish legal scholars who permit, in extenuating circumstances, the abortion of compromised fetuses.
The RCA maintains that “abortion on demand,” even before twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, is forbidden. There is no sanction to permit the abortion of a healthy fetus when the mother’s life is not endangered. The RCA supports that part of the law that permits abortion, even at a late stage, when the mother’s life is at risk.
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, of blessed memory, a leading expert in Jewish law and mentor to many of rabbis of the RCA, wrote, “from the perspective of the fetus and those concerned with its welfare, liberality in this direction comes at the expense of humanity…” (“Abortion: A Halakhic Perspective,” Tradition, 25(4), Summer 1991).
Rabbi Elazar Muskin, president of the RCA, said, “Jewish law is based on the theological presumption that a human being does not possess total ownership of his or her body. Our bodies belong to God; we are His stewards. Therefore, decisions about abortion must be made with due consideration of theological and moral principles.”
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, first vice president of the RCA, said, “The removal of any restriction from abortion access and the redefining of the word ‘homicide’ to exclude abortion, indicate a further erosion of the moral values of our society, where killing babies is no longer construed as immoral in any way, even when the fetus has a measure of personhood, actual or potential.”
Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA, added, “We are very concerned about the potential physical, emotional, personal, and financial implications that abortion restrictions may have on the mother, the family, and the child. We maintain that it is the duty of the family, as well as that of society, to enable those impacted to live lives of dignity and we must prioritize ways to find means of support.”