Advocating for Reproductive Rights in Raleigh
The woman ahead of me waiting to pass through the metal detector at the entrance to the General Assembly in Raleigh, North Carolina, wore a t-shirt that read, “Everybody Loves Somebody Who Has Had an Abortion.” I surmised that she, too, had come to participate in the first Faith Leaders Lobby Day on February 28th, organized by Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic.
Just beyond the red-carpeted main staircase was an indoor courtyard filled with lobbyists steadfastly devoted to all sorts of issues. It was easy to spot my group: women in pink “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” t-shirts, female ministers with clerical collars, and a contingent of Jewish women wearing “Carolina Jews for Justice” stickers (they were members of temples and synagogues, unaffiliated Jews, and members of local chapters of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which has a 2023 policy statement on reproductive choice).
Almost 50 of us – Jews, Muslims and Christians of multiple denominations – had come to explain to legislators how our faiths support our right to make reproductive healthcare decisions for ourselves. We were in Raleigh to advocate for HB/SB 19, recently introduced to codify in North Carolina the right to an abortion once guaranteed by the struck-down Roe v. Wade decision and signed onto by every Democratic member of the House and Senate of North Carolina. We were there lobbying because even though North Carolina currently allows abortions up to 20 weeks, which makes it an abortion refuge for women from neighboring states with bans on abortions earlier in pregnancy, others were lobbying for a six-week “heartbeat” bill.
As I waited outside a Democratic representative’s office for my group’s turn, a large group of men at a nearby table prayed with their bible. We, too, had come to advocate for public policy because of our faith. But our advocacy was based on the separation of church and state. It was based on the notion that religious freedom means that the men praying next to us should not be able to impose what they believe about when life begins upon pregnant women in our state.
I explained to each of the three representatives we met with that for thousands of years, our Torah and other religious texts have put the well-being of the pregnant woman first, prioritizing her life over the potential life of the fetus.
Yes, my faith believes that life is sacred; for that reason, women must have full access to the entire spectrum of reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion.
Rabbis have long interpreted the commandment “Be fruitful and multiply” to apply only to men and not women because you cannot be commanded to do something that could kill you. A close friend almost hemorrhaged to death giving birth; another friend, now deceased, had a heart attack when nursing her baby and needed a heart transplant because pregnancy hormones caused heart disease.
A fellow lobbyist recalled how she brought a friend with an unwanted pregnancy to her rabbi for counseling. Do we really want to live in a state that would impose civil and criminal penalties on clergy who counsel their congregants in the conduct of their daily lives?
We had not anticipated that representatives would share their stories with us. They did. One, a mother of two, acknowledged having had an abortion. And yes, she had prayed for guidance from God. A legislative aide of another representative had battled uterine cancer but later became pregnant with the help of in vitro fertilization. She rejected the notion that any legislator was going to decide what was best for her reproductive health. A third representative noted how many legislators’ “pro-life” views do not extend to supporting SNAP or Medicaid benefits for the impoverished.
Exiting the building, I walked across the Great Seal of North Carolina. It features two female figures symbolizing Liberty and Plenty. What North Carolina needs right now is a legislature that recognizes women’s personal liberty and acknowledges that everybody loves somebody who has had an abortion. To paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only with such liberty can women share in the full dignity that comes from being an adult human responsible for one’s own choices.