‘Our voice here is a moral voice’

Hebrew Center declares support for rights to abortion.

Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center said women's reproductive rights should be supported. — MV Times

The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center recently held a forum to discuss how to mitigate the fallout from the recently overturned Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court, and to highlight the chief notion of the discourse — advocacy for reproductive justice. 

“The Hebrew Center cares about this issue, and about pro-choice, and abortion justice,” began Rabbi Caryn Broitman, “from a religious perspective.”

Reaching far beyond the particulars of a decision to terminate a pregnancy, Broitman emphasized the need for women to be able to make their own choices concerning their own bodies, and stressed additional need to support the autonomy that comes with a person taking various socially and medically geared avenues. 

The Hebrew Center’s support for women’s reproductive rights is not of political motivation, explained Broitman. “Our voice here is a moral voice. It is a life voice. And it’s a spiritual, religious voice.”

Broitman cited Israel’s ultra-Orthodox chief rabbi, who said publicly in 1948 that “there’s no legal reason to prevent an abortion.” 

Jewish value of reproductive justice, said Broitman, is significant; for it is encompassed by the greater need to take care of one’s body and ensure health and wellbeing. “[Therefore,] women and pregnant people don’t need to offer an excuse or reason to justify their abortion. It’s our healthcare.” 

The Women’s Centers, a leading organization for abortion care research work — including stem cell research — sees around 40,000 clients per year and has been a “frequent target for antiabortion terrorism,” mainly as a response to its success in women’s rights advocacy.

Elizabeth Barnes, former Chappy resident and president of the Women’s Centers — one of the largest abortion providers nationwide  — spoke to the Hebrew Center crowd about her work. Barnes noted that in the current moment, women from Alabama and Tennessee — where abortion has been deemed illegal — have been provided access to the procedure through efforts by the organization to transport them to New Jersey’s centers. 

Barnes harked back to her early days working for the cause in a clinic in Pennsylvania, having started the job at the same time that two women, both of whom were her age, and also hailing from New England, were shot and killed in Brooklyn because of their association with a women’s clinic. 

Following the incident, Barnes said her family questioned her career path, expressing concerns over her safety; but Barnes could not be dissuaded because the work was too important. 

Barnes made note that the shooting affirmed that importance, provoking women and supporters of reproductive justice to continue the efforts to maintain health equality. The directed violence, said Barnes, “didn’t work … people persisted.”

Barnes said the evolution of the medicine of abortion, has, over time, created an “incredible community of brilliant thinkers who are saving people’s lives in complex abortion and materntity work,” with the caveat of “if given the opportunity.” 

Barnes relayed countless stories of women who have had to face numerous obstacles in their efforts to secure access to noninvasive medical abortions via oral pill, some traveling over 18 hours in order to terminate their five-, six-, or seven-week pregnancy. 

Some states that have not banned abortion fully still enact absurd waiting periods, in many cases resulting in doubling the amount of weeks a woman remains pregnant. 

But “abortion is just part of the story,” said Barnes, noting that Roe v. Wade was overturned in the midst of a nationwide diaper and baby formula shortage, further shedding light on the health access disparity women continuously endure. 

The U.S. maternal mortality rate, Barnes said, is “horrific,” especially among women of color, and regardless of income. 

Barnes said that despite abortion being legal in Massachusetts, there’s a lot of progress yet to be made — including on the Vineyard, which currently lacks access to even early, first-trimester abortions. Barnes noted one particular instance, which left a few-weeks-pregnant woman who had already chosen to terminate, pregnant for longer, bringing with it all forms of distress. It begs the question of how a community can enhance its role as a women’s health supporter, provider, and safe haven. 

Martha’s Vineyard is indeed a special place, said Barnes, but “we are not special when advocating for abortion work. We need to get on it.” 

According to Talmudic texts —  written law and traditions of Judaism — Broitman relayed that the essence of “life” is that which is after birth. “There’s no question about it,” she said. 

Because of this understanding, it is the mother’s life that takes precedence; not that of an unborn fetus. Life, explained Broitman, does “not equate a fetus or potential life within a person’s body to all of life.”

Accentuating the traditional view of the importance of women’s lives and health, Barnes offered a quote by well-known Rabbi Moses Sofer: “No woman should have to save the world by destroying herself.”