Jewish Women Cite Their Faith in Challenge to Kentucky Abortion Ban

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Kentucky’s blanket abortion ban is being challenged by three Jewish women who have filed a lawsuit arguing that it violates their religious rights under the state constitution.

The legal challenge, filed Thursday in Louisville state court, says the state’s Republican-dominated legislature “enforced a bigoted theology” by banning nearly all abortions. The lawsuit bears similarities to legal challenges to abortion bans in at least two other states.

“The religious beliefs of the plaintiffs were violated: it was the Jewish and Jewish laws (“halacha”) posed and answered to the question of fetal personality thousands of years ago and the Jewish rabbis, commentators and jurists repeatedly confirmed these answers over the millennia that followed,” the Kentucky lawsuit reads. “While a fetus deserves some respect under halakha, the giver of birth has priority. Jews have never believed that life begins at conception.

Kentucky Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has indicated he will fight the lawsuit, which names him as a defendant. Cameron has defended the state’s abortion restrictions in various courts, touting his anti-abortion stance in his campaign for governor. The gubernatorial election will take place in 2023.

“The General Assembly has made it clear that Kentucky will protect unborn life and these laws are an important part of the Commonwealth,” Cameron said in a statement Thursday.

This is the latest attempt to strike down Kentucky’s sweeping abortion bans, but the most recent lawsuit offers another legal twist by basing the challenge on religious grounds.

The Kentucky Supreme Court has set a November hearing in another case challenging abortion restrictions. The High Court has allowed the near-total ban to continue while it considers the case.

Moreover, the abortion will be be on the ballot next month when Kentuckians decide the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate the right to abortion in the state.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville looks at theology and medical science. The question of when human life begins, he says, “is a religious and philosophical question without universal beliefs in different religions.”

“Judaism has never defined life from conception,” the lawsuit said, adding that “millennia of commentary by Jewish scholars has reaffirmed Judaism’s commitment to reproductive rights.”

“According to Jewish law, a fetus does not become a human being or a child until birth,” he said.

The abortion ban also violates Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the women said in their lawsuit. The law says the government “shall not substantially interfere with a person’s freedom of religion” unless it proves a compelling interest and uses “the least restrictive means” to do so, it said. he noted.

The lawsuit also claims that Kentucky’s abortion law violates constitutional religious rights with respect to the use of in vitro fertilization. Two plaintiffs have a child conceived through IVF, according to the lawsuit.

The IVF process often results in surplus embryos that must either be kept frozen at high cost or discarded by clinics with donor consent, the lawsuit says.

“Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs demand that they have more children through IVF, but the law forces plaintiffs to spend exorbitant fees to keep their embryos frozen indefinitely or face potential felony charges” under the state’s fetal homicide law, the lawsuit said.

“This dilemma forces plaintiffs to give up their sincere religious beliefs to have more children by limiting access to IVF and significantly impairs their right to freely exercise these sincere religious beliefs,” he added.

Kentucky case echoes lawsuits that have been filed in Florida and Indiana to block state abortion bans on the grounds that the measures violate religious freedom.

The Kentucky Legislature enacted a “trigger law” banning nearly all abortions that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down constitutional protections for abortion. The only exception under Kentucky law is when the mother’s health is threatened.

Lawmakers also passed a separate six-week ban. These laws are already being challenged by the two remaining clinics in Kentucky that offer abortions, both in Louisville.

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