‘Abortion Justice Is a Jewish Value’: U.S. Congresswomen Use Shofars to Sound Alarm

‘The shofar has been used to call the Jewish people to action for millennia,’ Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says at Jewish women’s group’s protest in D.C., during week of action to advance abortion access

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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דבי וסרמן סנאטורית רפובלקנית
Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaking during a briefing in Florida last May.Credit: Wilfredo Lee / AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Jewish women activists brought their fight to advance abortion access to the U.S. capital last week, including staging a demonstration outside of Congress and meeting with second gentleman Doug Emhoff.

Ahead of the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), a week of action by the National Council of Jewish Women featured lobbying efforts to support the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act, destigmatizing abortion stories, celebrating and supporting abortion providers, and holding “sho-tests” – where blowing of the shofar was meant to serve as a wake-up alarm.

According to a White House official, Emhoff and the Jewish women’s council discussed the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to protect reproductive health care and abortion access during their September 12 meeting. This was the latest instance of Emhoff meeting with women and faith leaders at the national, state and local levels following the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Every blow of the shofar in public spaces unifies us in solidarity as we sound a wake-up call to our people and the nation that abortion is essential health care and abortion justice is a Jewish value,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said at the Jewish women’s council protest in front of Congress.

“The shofar, or ram’s horn, has been used to call the Jewish people to action for millennia. The shofar blasts and sharp broken tones [act] to start us from our slumber and draw our attention to the challenges and opportunities of our world. In the Jewish year 5782, we lost our legal rights. And in the start of our new year 5783, we must fight for ownership of our own reproductive freedom,” the Florida congresswoman said.

Last Wednesday’s protest came a day after South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced legislation to ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks. Wasserman Schultz urged supporters not to relent against such efforts until the rights of women everywhere are restored.

“Our protests sound the alarm from coast to coast to protest complacency and proclaim loudly that [we] will not tire from the fight over abortion. We must fight like our own lives depend on it – because they do. We cannot allow a government takeover of women’s bodies, and that’s what’s happening. It is outrageous and unacceptable,” she added.

Wasserman Schultz relayed how she went through in-vitro fertilization when she was 29 years old, and how the Supreme Court’s ruling has made her reflect on her own story.

“With the [Supreme Court’s] Dobbs decision and the [Justice Clarence] Thomas concurring opinion hanging over our heads, it means that one day a young woman like me – who would have no other reason to think she would be fertile and able to easily have a child – might not be able to, because the government would say that’s not allowed,” she said, adding: “Not on our watch.”

Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs, the youngest Jewish woman in Congress, noted how, as a 33-year-old woman, reproductive health care is effectively her health care. She shared her experiences freezing her eggs and how she unprecedentedly spoke on the House floor about her usage of birth control pills, an IUD and the morning-after pill.

The California congresswoman, who noted how her Jewish faith guides her work in Congress every day, was an original sponsor of the twice-passed Women’s Health Protection Act. She also co-sponsored the introduction of the Right to Contraception Act that passed the House in July. She is also currently leading the My Body, My Data Act, which would create a new national standard to protect reproductive and sexual health data.

“When the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, I was furious and literally shaking,” she told fellow demonstrators. “When, if and how to start a family is a deeply personal and private decision, and it shouldn’t be decided by the Supreme Court or elected officials,” she said.

She noted that the ruling was not only a huge blow to her bodily autonomy and right to privacy, but to her religious freedoms as a Jewish woman. “To me and millions of Jews across the country, it’s a painful irony that the religious right has been working for decades under the false guise of religious freedom to overturn Roe and eliminate our right to abortion. No one religion or belief system should be able to supersede others and dictate policies for a diverse nation,” Jacobs said, stressing the important protections of the separation of church and state.

Jacobs said Jewish law teaches that human life begins at first breath, and the well-being of the pregnant person comes before the fetus. “It’s outrageous that others have co-opted our sacred texts to rationalize taking away our reproductive rights, and that their so-called pro-life crusade actually stopped once the baby takes its first breath,” she stated.

Rep. Sara Jacobs speaking in the U.S. Congress last January.Credit: Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP

“We can’t accept this new post-Roe reality as our new normal. This is not a time to give up. This is a time to show up, to act, to organize, to mobilize – because too much is on the line. Our rights, our dignity, our autonomy and our religious freedoms are at risk,” Jacobs said. “As we go into this holy season, reflecting on the year behind us and the year ahead, I couldn’t think of a more fitting call to action,” she added.

The actions come as a new survey from the Jewish Electorate Institute shows that 82 percent of Jewish voters disapprove of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, 56 percent of those polled said the ruling makes them more motivated to vote in the upcoming midterm elections (which Democrats have already dubbed “Roe-vember”). Thirty-eight percent of Jewish voters said abortion was the most significant issue when considering their vote this election, second only to the future of democracy.

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