Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, raising speculation that its justices might overturn precedents set by Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and other landmark decisions. As American Jews tend overwhelmingly to be pro-choice, only a minority would likely welcome such an outcome. Howard Slugh and Tal Forgang, however, argue that their concerns may be unfounded:
Some Jewish groups have argued that Roe must be upheld because, in some instances, Jewish women might have a religious obligation to have an abortion. As one of us has previously written, . . . “there is widespread acceptance,” even among Jews who take a more restrictive view of the matter, “that abortions are allowed when necessary to save a mother’s life.” Some Jews regard this allowance as a requirement, which gives rise to a religious obligation to have an abortion in some rare circumstances.
[As a result, some Jewish] groups claim that the Supreme Court must maintain a broad right to abortion to protect Jewish women’s religious liberty. Taken on its own terms, this argument is misguided in a number of ways.
Jewish women in New York or other predominantly liberal states will not wake up the day after Roe is reversed to find abortion illegal in their state. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe and holds that there is no constitutional right to abortion, abortion will not become illegal nationwide. Instead, each state will set its own abortion policy democratically, based on the desires and needs of its population. States with large Jewish populations such as New York, New Jersey, and California are not likely to restrict abortion any more than they currently do.
Even women who live in states with “strict” abortion regulations would be unlikely to face a conflict between their religious mandates and abortion regulations. . . . In the unlikely event that a genuine conflict were to arise between an abortion regulation and a Jewish woman’s religious obligation to have an abortion, the proper course of action would be for her to seek an individualized accommodation, not to demand a religious veto over any law that conflicted with her faith.
Indeed, as Slugh and Fortgang argue in follow-up article, overturning Roe could lead to a general expansion of religious freedom.
More about: Abortion, Freedom of Religion, Supreme Court