As voters head to the polls next month to determine the fate of Amendment 2, which would further codify restrictions on reproductive freedom in Kentucky, we must ask ourselves: What other freedoms are we sacrificing?
Kentucky has a long belief in freedom of religion. In fact, in 2013, more than four-fifths of legislators reaffirmed this right, with democratic control of the House; no doubt it would pass by an even greater margin today. Essentially, the simple seven-line bill clarified that there must be “clear and convincing evidence” before the government could infringe someone’s “sincere religious beliefs”. And yet, this is precisely what the laws prohibiting abortion do.
This argument is a key claim in a lawsuit recently filed by three brave Jefferson County women against Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This case is unique in that these women do not seek abortions. Rather, all of them are Jewish women who have had, or would need to have, in vitro fertilization to conceive, and they fear that current Kentucky laws could expose them and their doctors to felony charges for tried the procedure.
The mere threat of a lawsuit has already had a chilling effect, with doctors advising their patients to travel to other states for reproductive care, even when they are actively seeking to support their families. It is as ironic that so-called “pro-life” laws discourage reproduction that a state that promotes “religious freedom” willfully ignores that other religions exist.
Even though my swearing in is still weeks away, colleagues have already asked me if it’s really true that Judaism allows abortion. Not only does Jewish law allow it, but in many cases Jewish law mandates it. If a pregnancy endangers a mother’s life, or her physical or mental well-being, or is the result of rape and incest, or is a non-viable fetus, then the answer in Jewish law is clear.
These laws are not only an affront to women, they are an affront to individual liberty, and as this lawsuit explains, they are an affront to Judaism itself. In short: these laws are not based on long-standing and widely held Judeo-Christian values, which for thousands of years have held that life begins at birth. Rather, they are based on a very political interpretation which is now imposed on other denominational systems.
The question is also deeply personal to me. When I was young, my mother got pregnant and had a 50% chance of surviving the pregnancy due to complications. The chances of a live birth were much worse.
If she hadn’t already had two small children, she would have taken this chance and if she succeeded, she would have loved and raised another child. But she didn’t want to orphan the two children she already had.
Jewish law was clear: my mother should not put her life, and our well-being, on the line while facing a long chance of a successful birth. Current Kentucky law, however, would not have allowed my mother to terminate the pregnancy, and a simple toss would determine if she lived.
These stories, and countless stories not yet shared, tell us the real impact of these laws. It is time for men of conscience to stand up and speak out. They are our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, and their most basic rights are stripped before our eyes.
The damage already done is considerable, but it will be much worse if we do not fight back. Let’s start by beating Amendment 2 next month. Let’s elect politicians who will codify reproductive freedom at the state and federal level. Let us also fight these laws in the courts. If we don’t act, countless more women will suffer and die needlessly – and it may be years, if not decades, before our daughters have as much freedom as our mothers.
Daniel Grossberg is the elected state representative for Jefferson County’s 30th District.