Knowing that conservative judges care less and less about respecting precedent, while repeatedly allowing sincerely held religious beliefs to override common sense, a Jewish group in Florida has filed a lawsuit (you can read it here) challenging the state’s new 15-week abortion ban, set to go into effect on July 1. The law offers no exceptions for rape or incest and replaces the previous ban at 24 weeks.
While pro-choice groups have already filed a lawsuit against the new law, the one filed by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor offers a unique claim: Their faith requires women to have control over their bodies:
“For Jews, all life is precious and thus the decision to bring new life into the world is not taken lightly or determined by state fiat,” the lawsuit said. “In Jewish law, abortion is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman, or for many other reasons not permitted under the act [the new law]. As such, the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and thus violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”
The lawsuit also said congregation members and other people who “do not share the religious views reflected in the act will suffer … irreparable harm by having their religious freedom under the Florida Constitution violated.”
The lawsuit is a direct challenge to the Christian nationalist mindset that now seems to permeate conservative judges. If religious beliefs can override pandemic safety measures or threaten long-standing church/state separation principles, why can’t Jewish beliefs pose a credible threat to a law banning abortion for almost any reason after an arbitrary time?
This is hardly a unique position among Jewish people. The 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study found that 83% of Jews in the U.S. believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. To allow the Florida law to go into effect would prevent many Jews from exercising their religious beliefs. Either judges need to admit non-Christian views don’t matter, since that’s what the trend seems to look like these days anyway, or they need to respect faith-based beliefs no matter where they’re coming from. No wonder the lawsuit says, bluntly, “The Jewish people have often borne the brunt of the horrors that occur when the power of Christianity has merged with the power of the state.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in the Leon County Circuit Court, also notes that “no fetus is viable at 15 weeks of pregnancy” and that allowing this law to go into effect would punish countless women:
To base criminal charge on such an elusive definition [of viability] and to threaten criminal charges against physicians and a wide dragnet of others who may be deemed to have assisted a woman in obtaining an abortion will have a strong chilling effect upon the women of this state who do not share the views of a Governor who is all too willing to target even the most powerful entities in Florida who defy his will and thus would not hesitate to persecute and prosecute those who intentionally defy the Act or who cannot understand its vague terms.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the state would be violating women’s right to privacy, religious freedom, due process, and equal protection through this new law. It’ll be up to a judge to decide if this law can go into effect, independently of whatever the Supreme Court says any day now.
You may recall that The Satanic Temple tried using a similar argument to fight anti-abortion laws in Missouri years ago, saying that those laws violated their client’s Satanic belief that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” One case was tossed out on a technicality because the plaintiff was no longer pregnant. Another was rejected because the judges said the patient could still obtain an abortion if she jumped through the state’s hoops… even if they were unnecessary. (The hoops, in other words, weren’t violating her religious beliefs.)
This new lawsuit, however, is a completely different beast altogether. No one can write it off as some sort of “stunt.” There are many, many Jewish women who would be affected by the Florida law. And no one’s doubting the religious sincerity of the people involved. It really boils down to whether Republicans’ desire to force their conservative Christian will on people will be allowed to stand, even when it directly prohibits other people from exercising their religious beliefs.