The term reproductive rights has too often become synonymous with abortion rights. “Reproductive rights” are not seen as such in Judaism. A more expansive view of reproductive rights is important for understanding Judaism’s stance on the issue. It is also essential because Jewish views include the painfully overlooked population of those facing infertility and other family building challenges.
The first reason to expand beyond reproductive rights is because Judaism has historically focused on obligations above rights. The Jewish approach to the American focus on rights is almost always on how rights protect a Jewish person’s ability to perform their obligations, whether it’s the obligation to pay fair wages, to have access to kosher food, or to care for the earth. These issues are more often aligned with concepts of pursuing justice (economic, food or environmental justice). Justice includes a context and focuses on solutions and actions. Those actions being our obligations. One of those actions/obligations is having children and having them safely.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has clear language when it discusses reproductive priorities and rights. People ought to have “the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.” That would be inclusive of pregnancy prevention, abortion, and fertility support. They continue, “These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly on the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means.” Again, this is the means to have children. It is inclusive of, yet far beyond, abortion.
Similar to the WHO view, Jews have a responsibility to their own health and wellbeing. Put them together and this makes pursuing the whole gamut of reproductive health care an issue of justice. This includes an obligation, yes obligation, to have an abortion when a women’s health is at risk. This also includes treatment for infertility and other family building challenges.
Focusing reproductive rights so heavily on abortion moves the narrative to its most restrictive and narrow view. “Life at conception” is not a Jewish view. Prioritizing an embryo over a woman’s life is not a Jewish view. Not supporting assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination is not a Jewish view. When focused on abortion and life at conception, other important issues are ignored. For example, some forms of contraception can save lives and, of all ironies, are needed for the success of assisted reproductive technologies in order to have a baby.
One cannot be denied the access or means of planning their family and having a child. This is the Jewish view. God created humanity with the divine gift of reproduction. For sure, abortion is necessary and extremely important to fight for. Reproductive rights/freedom/justice also means fighting for people facing infertility and other family building challenges.
On this #ReproShabbat, stand up for reproductive rights. All of them. Prioritize maternal health and reproductive health in general. Create access to the means for all reproductive care. And protect those who want to have children too.
By Rabbi Idit Solomon