Because of this our hearts are sick.
Because of these our eyes are dimmed… (Lamentations 5:17)
Today is Tisha B’Av, when it is traditional to read the book of Lamentations. Lamentations describes the calamities that befall the city of Jerusalem when it is under siege. Among the things that it describes as lamentable are a mothers eating their children and staggering amounts of death and destruction of all sorts.
In Hebrew, the Book of Lamentations is referred to as Eicha, which is loosely translated as “How?” or “Alas.” How could all of this have happened to us? How can we go on with the vision of these horrors burned into our brains?
“How?” is a question I find myself asking a lot as I read current events about legislation being passed around the country restricting abortion rights, and policies have been passed or that legislators are working on passing that make it harder for families to send their children to good schools, feed them, or otherwise make sure their needs are met. Unlike the horrors described in the mournful liturgical poems called kinot and in the book of Lamentations, the laws that states and the federal government may pass or have passed will make people’s lives very much worse in a way I find imaginable and threatening. I cannot place myself in the shoes of someone who has just had seven of her sons killed in a single day for refusing to worship idols or a woman who has roasted and eaten half of her infant son, but I could see myself needing an abortion—at all, or late in a pregnancy. I can envision how easy it would be to not have the money I need to feed my child, and how devastating it would be to have already meager foodstamp benefits cut or reduced.
“How” was also a question my parents asked themselves when I, as a pre-teen, declared myself to be a pro-life feminist. They were about ready to go crazy. “Do you want people to die having back-alley abortions?” my father kept asking me. I said that I was worried that legal abortion made it easier for women to be pressured into abortions for economic reasons, for wages not to be raised because families were more optional. They are good, pro-choice, feminists, and were very upset that I spent my days on pro-life right-wing websites, saying things like “Mom, if you’ve ever been on the pill, you were killing my brothers and sisters.” Their relief was pretty substantial when I became avowedly pro-choice around ten seconds into my first relationship.
How can abortion rights be further restricted throughout the country, making it so that women cannot choose to terminate a pregnancy that will harm them, a pregnancy that is not viable, a pregnancy that they cannot afford, or a pregnancy that they simply do not want? How can many of the same people working to restrict abortion rights also be working to make it harder to raise a healthy and well-educated child?
With their own hands, tenderhearted women
Have cooked their own children; (Lamentations 4:10).
The woman who is said to have killed and eaten her child during the siege of Jerusalem, Mary the daughter of Eleazer, is not a particularly sympathetic character—she doesn’t want to help the community search for food, and kills and eats her infant son after telling him that even if he were to survive the siege he might end up as a slave. She kills him not only because she can’t envision a reasonable future for him, but also because she appears to be a not-great person.
Little children beg for bread;
None gives them a morsel. (Lamentations 4:4)
However, in a country where funding for public schools is being reduced in many areas, or where the schools are bad to begin with, where safe childcare is extraordinarily expensive, and jobs with reasonable wages are hard to procure, it is easy to see why someone would make a rational and intelligent decision that it wasn’t economically sensible to abort her fetus (which I am not conflating with eating an already-existing child). Policies being crafted by those who oppose abortion rights are making the decision to not have children more and more reasonable. This isn’t to say there aren’t many other good reasons to have an abortion—or that anyone should need to think anyone else’s decision to have an abortion is good or reasonable. But perhaps if you’re anti-abortion you shouldn’t go around making abortion a more rational economic choice for people while hurting young people that already exist.
As the words of Eicha echo in my ears and the tune gets stuck in my head, I think about how next summer we will still be lamenting same historical tragedies. The crusades and the inquisition and the Holocaust and the siege of Jerusalem all still will have happened. But additional tragedies, of children going to bed and waking up and going to bed again still hungry, of brains not being fed by education, and of bodies forced to bear children they do not want or cannot take care of, are still ahead of us.
Even now our eyes pine away
In vain for deliverance.
As we waited, still we wait
For a nation that cannot help. (Lamentations 4:17)
Quotations from Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985.