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Jewish Groups Deplore Ruling Restricting Access to Abortion

June 30, 1992
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Jewish prochoice groups expressed deep disappointment over the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday giving states sweeping powers to restrict abortion.

They said it is now more urgent than ever to pass the Freedom of Choice Act, federal legislation guaranteeing abortion rights.

The court upheld most parts of a Pennsylvania law restricting abortion that had been challenged as unconstitutional by Planned Parenthood.

At the same time the majority of the court claimed to have reaffirmed Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that legalized abortion, voting 5-4 against allowing states to outlaw all abortions.

But pro-choice experts challenged that claim. They said the justices have given state legislatures the green light to impose burdensome restrictions on abortion, overturning the essence of Roe vs. Wade. Access to abortion is no longer the fundamental right it once was, they argued.

The ruling “may well have been a highly political decision designed to avoid political backlash from the pro-choice majority in the country,” said Ann Lewis, who chairs the Commission for Women’s Equality of the American Jewish Congress.

“It is a decision which maintains Roe vs. Wade by title but not in substance,” said Lewis, whose group, like many of the others, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

“I am outraged,” said Joan Bronk, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, who spoke at a pro-choice rally opposite the White House following the announcement of the decision. “The rights of all women have been diminished,” she said.

“And no matter how slyly it was couched in the language, the effect will (be, to) hit poor, rural and young women” especially hard, she said. “It will cause them tremendous turmoil and financial strain.”


The Pennsylvania law that was upheld requires women to receive counseling prior to abortions on fetal development and alternatives to abortion. They are then required to wait 24 hours before receiving abortions, and doctors are required to submit detailed reports to the government on each abortion performed.

The justices also upheld the requirement that a minor obtain the consent of at least one parent or a state judge, but struck down, 5-4, a requirement that husbands be notified prior to the procedure.

“It is clear that even if Roe vs. Wade has not been formally overturned, the restrictions being imposed on women who may seek an abortion are such that we are being denied our fundamental right to choose,” said Joan Kort, president of B’nai B’rith Women.

The ruling “certainly will encourage other states to pass more legislation weakening, if not negating Roe vs. Wade,” said Harriet Green, president of Na’amat USA.

Pro-choice groups are particularly concerned with language in the majority opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor adopting an “undue-burden” standard to be used to determine the legality of a state’s abortion restriction.

A restriction enacted “in the state’s profound interest in potential life” can pass legal muster if it does not impose “an undue burden” on women seeking abortion, O’Connor wrote.

This standard is weaker than the one in Roe vs. Wade, which provided for an absolute right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy but allowed some limits in the last six months.


Diana Aviv, associate executive vice chair of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said the definition of undue burden was “so narrow, it would enable states to enact all sorts of restrictions,” including those that pressure women not to go forward with abortions.

“The idea of promoting (unborn) life takes primacy over a woman’s right to choose,” said Aviv.

Alfred Moses, president of the American Jewish Committee, said his organization was “greatly disturbed” by the court’s decision. “While claiming to reaffirm Roe,” the undue burden test “does, in fact, overturn that portion of Roe vs. Wade which treated the right to choose as a fundamental right,” said Moses.

Jewish groups on the right were also upset with the ruling — because it did not go far enough.

Abba Cohen, Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox group, said he had hoped the court would “reconsider and overturn Roe vs. Wade. To the extent that it did not, we were disappointed.”

Aviv said NJCRAC would focus on organizing support for the Freedom of Choice Act, which would ensure that abortion remains legal nationally. Aviv said there is nearly complete consensus on the issue among member organizations.

The measure is scheduled to be taken up by House and Senate committees this week. The bills are expected to reach the floor of both chambers soon thereafter, where they would have to win a two-thirds majority to survive a promised presidential veto.

Women’s American ORT, which called the court’s decision “regressive,” said it would mobilize its chapters to urge politicians “to reinstate a national policy on reproductive health care that protects all women in the United States,” according to its president, Sandy Isenstein.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, also protested the decision. President Deborah Kaplan said she “deplored” it and pledged to enlist her organization’s grassroots ranks in the “battle for reproductive freedom.”

What the court did was “unacceptable,” and has a “special ring to it for the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“With our history of oppression and persecution, we are only too aware of the (dangers inherent in) the court’s intention to place restrictions on a targeted community for the ‘good of society,’ ” said Landsberg, who also addressed the pro-choice rally.

The JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published Monday, July 6, because of the Independence Day holiday in the United States

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