How Blu Greenberg Helped Me Form My Views on Abortion as a Conservative Jewish Woman
This past year, I spent a lot of time thinking about how abortion fits in with my religious views as a Conservative Jewish woman and my political views as an American feminist. Although these identities of mine often conflict, I’ve found a balance between the two. After much thought, I’ve come to the opinion that, on the topic of abortions for others, they should be free to do what they want with their bodies. At the same time, I’m undecided about my opinion on abortion for my own body. My conclusion that I can have my own rules for myself, but would never force those rules onto others, has shaped how I look at abortion laws in the United States—especially as many parts of our government move frighteningly further to the right.
Last year, I had the opportunity to study bioethics at my Jewish high school with a Conservative female rabbi. During this academic course, we discussed Jewish opinions on abortion from female and male rabbis across many denominations of Judaism. At the time, I struggled with the idea that I might not be pro-abortion when it came to my own body, but still believed that other women should be able to make their own decisions. I felt like I needed a label that covered the full extent of my opinion, but I was scared that the term “pro-choice” didn’t fit. Eventually, I came across commentary from the Jewish feminist and scholar Blu Greenberg, whose opinion on abortion caught my attention. I read excerpts from Greenberg’s book On Women and Judaism, A View from Tradition. In one of her chapters, “The Issue of Abortion,” she writes that she "tense[s] at the thought of getting caught up in the controversy of abortion. Emotionally, theologically, as a Jew…as a mother…And yet other facts of pregnancy cannot be ignored.” I identified with Greenberg’s stance, as I read it: the topic of abortion is not black and white, and even if I wouldn’t have an abortion myself, it’s still a valid decision for other women to make. I realized that this idea is precisely what being pro-choice means to me. After concluding that I could label myself as pro-choice, I realized that most people, especially government officials, could stand to be a little bit more like Blu Greenberg and me.
This past July, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves passed a law that bans abortion if "the mother chooses to have an abortion because of the race, sex, or possible genetic variations in the fetus." In an article published by The Washington Post, Beth Orlansky, the advocacy director at the Mississippi Center for Justice, states that “the Supreme Court has consistently held that abortion before viability is an unqualified right; the state has no reason to question women on the reason they have made this difficult choice.” When I read Orlansky’s quote in this article, I immediately agreed. Orlansky explains that abortion is a personal decision and is anything but the government’s business. Orlansky’s stance is that it’s no one else’s place to tell someone what to do with their body or how to determine the outcome of their pregnancy.
However, with the recent addition of ultra-conservative justices to the Supreme Court, it seems we may be moving further and further away from the separation of church and state in terms of abortion laws. In Mississippi, where evangelical Christian values strongly influence its conservative political culture, abortion often conflicts with people’s religious beliefs—but these voters must remember that their views on abortion rights are personal and should not affect the lives of others.
Even with Governor Reeve’s decision to crack down on abortion laws in Mississippi, and the recent addition of ultra-conservative justices to the Supreme Court, the fight for reproductive rights across the US has not been squandered. Still, (soon-to-be former) President Donald Trump vowed to put pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, and unfortunately, that was one of the few promises that he kept. With the additions of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Court and with the support of Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, reproductive rights including access to safe and legal abortions, health care equity, birth control, and sex education are at risk.
Beth Orlansky’s words reminded me of Blu Greenberg’s in On Women and Judaism. Greenberg helped me understand both Orlansky’s stance on abortion and my own; I realized that my religious beliefs (and their affect on how I take action with regards to my own body) don’t make me anti-choice. I still believe it's vital to protect reproductive rights and the lives of other women despite my religious beliefs. As I look at anti-abortion laws that are already in place, I wish that lawmakers such as Tate Reeves could follow in Blu Greenberg’s footsteps and understand that while it’s fair to have rules for our own bodies, we must ensure others have full access to their own body autonomy—especially when it comes to abortion.
There are ways to get involved in these issues, even from the comfort of your living room couch. Planned Parenthood has an ongoing action fund where you can sign your name on petitions, call your local representatives for legal abortion access, and make donations. These political leaders have shown that they are anti-choice, but that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for a woman’s right to choose; it just means that a woman’s legal right to an abortion is more urgent than ever.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.