Time, Does Religious Freedom Protect a Right to an Abortion? One Rabbi’s Mission to Find Out:
When Florida passed a law this spring that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Rabbi Barry Silver was furious. And when it looked like the Supreme Court was likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would allow such bans to take effect, he decided he needed to act. Silver’s progressive synagogue, Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Palm Beach County, sued the state of Florida in June, arguing that the anti-abortion law infringes on religious liberty.
Judaism has viewed abortion as morally acceptable—and even required in some circumstances—for thousands of years. In contrast to some Christian beliefs that say life begins at conception, Jewish law says that life begins at birth, and that the fetus is part of the pregnant person’s body. This is widely understood to mean that the pregnant person’s rights take precedence, and that if the fetus endangers the pregnant person’s life or health, Jewish law would require them to have an abortion.
“The First Amendment, which is the first one that they enacted, upon which all other freedoms are based, was designed to prevent the exact type of thing that we see now: the merger of a radical fundamentalist type of Christianity with the state,” Silver, who is also a civil rights lawyer and a former Democratic Florida state legislator, tells TIME. “This law criminalizes the practice of Judaism.”
It’s unclear if Silver’s lawsuit will prevail, though some legal experts say it raises legitimate points. “There’s a strong argument that [courts] would also have to grant a religious exemption given the requirements of Jewish law,” says Michael Helfand, a professor of religion and ethics at Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.
Experts think it will be the first in a wave of challenges to abortion restrictions on grounds of religious freedom in the wake of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling in June.