As the Forward, via JTA, noted last week, a number of prominent Jewish organizations, including the Union of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Joint Action Committee and the American Jewish Congress have signed onto an effort to stop stringent anti-abortion measures (the Stupak amendment in the House, and the Nelson amendment in the Senate) from entering the health care reform bill. On Monday, a number of these groups as well as Jewish Women International and NA’AMAT USA sent a letter to Congress vehemently opposing the Stupak amendment. The organizations wrote:
American families should have the opportunity to choose health coverage that reflects their own values and medical needs, a principle that should not be sacrificed in service of any political agenda.
It’s a powerful statement, and much appreciated. So why does it feel like the only religious voices being really loudly heard on this issue are the conservative ones, most notably the Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has had a crucial role in constructing the language of these troubling amendments?
In theory, I love the idea of marshaling our own religious forces against those folks who seek to monopolize the idea of God being on their side. I am also intrigued by Gordon Newby’s argument that sweeping abortion restrictions actually impinge on religious freedom because many religious traditions, including the Jewish one, permit abortions in certain cases. If the Stupak amendment is passed, he writes, “Americans across the spectrum of faiths will be subjected to limitations that will contravene their faith’s most well-considered and cherished views….”
Tempting and true as this argument is, though, religion should really be out of the picture.
If Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist teachings opposed abortion in all cases, Stupak would remain unacceptable.
And furthermore, if one religious group argues for their own exclusion from public policy and another argues vehemently for their values being uncompromisingly inserted into it, which side appears to have more legitimacy and gain more attention? As biological theorist and atheist author Richard Dawkins reminds us, when it’s religious argument vs. religious argument, hard-liners always win.
In fact, a desire to boost their “religious” bona fides led the Democrats to court anti-choice religious backing instead of consulting with, or shoring up, the admirable pro-choice religious groups above. Writes Sarah Posner at the American Prospect, this mess partly arose because of Democrats “seeking out the ‘faith vote’ in the last several election cycles, and confining the definition of ‘people of faith’ to people who oppose abortion.”
The religious aspect of this situation is a microcosm of the abortion debate on the whole. One side offers sensible compromise, while the other remains staunchly unyielding. So in the balance, women’s rights get chipped away piece by piece.