Jewish Groups Praise Clinton for Lifting Limits to Abortion

Jewish groups for the most part have welcomed President Clinton’s far-reaching orders lifting a variety of restrictions on access to abortion.

Clinton, who ran for office espousing pro-choice positions, chose, as one of his first actions as president, to reverse many of his predecessor’s anti-abortion policies.

With the exception of some Orthodox groups, most Jewish organizations oppose restrictions on access to abortion, and many of them have spent the past 12 years battling the Reagan and Bush administrations on the abortion issue.

“We’re thrilled about the decisions President Clinton made, and we absolutely commend him for the speed with which he made the decision,” said Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Ann Lewis, chair of the Commission for Women’s Equality of the American Jewish Congress, said in a statement that Clinton “heard the message from an overwhelming majority of members of Congress and the public: that all women should be allowed to make a truly informed decision on how to proceed with an unintended pregnancy.”

In executive orders issued last Friday, Clinton reversed a “gag rule” restricting abortion counseling in federally funded clinics, loosened a ban on abortions in military hospitals abroad and ended restrictions on federally funded research using fetal tissue.

He also ordered a review of the ban on the French abortion-inducing pill RU-486 and ended a prohibition on federal funds for international population control programs.

In a move laden with symbolism, Clinton issued the orders on the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States.

AGUDATH ISRAEL TAKES NO POSITION

Sammie Moshenberg, director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women, said her group is “delighted that the president has commemorated the 20th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade by reversing five different restrictive abortion policies of the past administration.”

Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox group, was not taking a public position on Clinton’s orders this week.

“None of the points addressed in the executive orders goes to the real guts of the issue,” said David Zwiebel, the group’s director of government affairs and general counsel. “Nothing in the orders specifically contravenes any public position we’ve taken in the past.”

In fact, Zwiebel said, Agudath Israel feels it is “wrong to condition” federal funding “on a waiver of constitutional freedom” because that can lead to government restrictions on religious practices.

Rabbi Landsberg of the Religious Action Center said that as a member of the clergy, she is especially pleased that the gag rule was lifted. “Prior to Roe vs. Wade,” she said, clergy often had to “refer desperate women to reliable abortion services.”

“We didn’t want the clergy in the position of giving medical advice to pregnant women,” Landsberg said. “Now through President Clinton’s decision, the clergy is not forced to counsel in ways that is not their calling.”

More battles on abortion loom on the horizon, however, Moshenberg of the NCJW said her group will be supporting anti-gag-rule legislation in Congress, so that “no future administration can reverse it.”

Lewis of AJCongress said in her statement that her group looks forward to further actions to implement the new administration’s “pro-choice agenda,” including passage of the Freedom of Choice and Reproductive Health Equity Acts.

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