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Jewish Organizations Voice Concern About Abortion-related Legislation

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While the abortion rights movement received a significant boost this week from Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg, some Jewish groups expressed concern about abortion-related legislation pending on Capitol Hill.

With the exception of some Orthodox groups, the majority of American Jewish organizations support preserving a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

In confirmation hearings Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ginsburg said that right to choose could be found in the Constitution’s explicit guarantee of equal protection for all citizens, as well as in the implied right to privacy.

“This is something central to a woman’s life, to her dignity. It’s a decision she must make for herself. And when government controls that decision for her, she’s being treated as less than a fully adult human being responsible for her own choices,” Ginsburg said.

Also on Wednesday, the five women Democrats serving in the U.S. Senate held a joint news conference proclaiming their opposition to restrictions on abortion that are currently included in federal appropriations bills.

The Senate is currently deciding on its version of several abortion-related provisions, including the well-known Hyde Amendment barring Medicaid funding for abortion in most cases. In a defeat for pro-choice forces, the amendment was recently adopted by the House of Representatives.

The news conference was called by a coalition of groups, including the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, to which 13 Jewish organizations belong.

It featured Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Carol Moseley-Braun (D-III.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Mikulski, Murray and Feinstein serve on the Appropriations Committee.

“The press conference was about the fact that even though abortion is a legal health service in this country, there is a two-tier system,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington representative for the National Council of Jewish Women, which belongs to the Religious Coalition.

She said that poor women and some others are “essentially barred from having this legal procedure because the funding has been cut off.”

‘A LONG WAY TO GO’

Mark Pelavin, Washington representative for the American Jewish Congress, which also belongs to the coalition, said his group is in complete accord with the five senators and that Robert Lifton, the group’s president, had sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee urging that the restrictive language be dropped.

“Funding issues are of paramount importance to women across the country. Otherwise, we provide poor women, federal employees and others with nothing but a hollow promise of a right” exercised by others, Pelavin said.

Ginsburg’s remarks on abortion were made in response to questioning from Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.).

She has written and spoken out on the abortion issue before and has criticized the sweeping nature of the high court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. But her criticisms are seen as within the range of prochoice opinions.

Moshenberg praised Ginsburg but added that abortion rights supporters “have a long way to go, even with Ginsburg.”

And Pelavin said that one of the biggest abortion fights would probably emerge later this year, in the upcoming debate over whether abortions would be covered under the Clinton health care reform package.

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