Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Free Choice is Pro Choice

I read something so utterly.... "Jewish" last night.

After much consideration, this 18-years-old or so author felt that she had solved one of the nation's most politicized issues. Here's what I read:

       "In Rav T's class..we briefly discussed abortion. Abortion is like murder, yet one would not                 be halachically [according to Jewish law] culpable since the child is in utero and not yet                       an actual fetus. I got to thinking about Western credo--why is there even a concept of free                   choice to abort? Who gave us permission to end another's life, even if that baby would be                     born sick or disadvantaged? I had an epiphany, just like a rich man is given wealth in                           order to be the distributor, the messenger, the vessel, so to, a woman is the vessel to bring                   forth Hashem's children. The cup does not have the option to decide not to hold water. I've                   decided that pro-choice is murder and pro-life, is simply, the natural order of the world."

After reading this, I felt an instantaneous desire to roll my eyes, make dramatic retching noises, and knock the author over the head, ironically, with a vessel. But I figured I'd better not: self-imposed fractures to the skull aren't too hot.

You see--that's because the author was me--back on November 6, 2012.  That was seminarydox before she became collegadox. I'd like to say she--I--have taken a few shots of sensibility since then.

This past month, I wrote a final project for class on  #shoutyourabortion, a digital movement kickstarted by two private citizens turned social activists. The hashtag ran after the House of Representatives voted to defund PlannedParenthood for FY2016. The founder's prerogative was to remove the stigma surrounding abortions. How? Through Twitter and Facebook posts and a YouTube channel devoted to sharing vlogs of women from all races, religions, ages and creeds.

Their message: Yes, we had abortions. Yes, we are good people. Yes, we would do it again.

Towards writing my article, I conducted interviews (akin to verbal colonoscopies) with abortion clinics, the Sea Change Program, the creators of #shoutyourabortion, feminist groups on campus, Women's Health specialists, government and policy professors and women's studies professor emerita. I worked for weeks piecing together the social animosity and emotional torment women who have abortions go though from outside pressures. I spoke with analysts, forecasting the sustainability of the hashtag and whether its vloggers were merely falling trees in an empty forest. I interviewed a woman who attended New York's public Speak Outs in the 70s, which brought topics like incest, rape, and reproductive rights to the dinner table. She told me what it felt like the first time she walked into a Planned Parenthood. How she lied and said she was engaged in order to get her first legal contraceptive at the age of 23.

Simply, I penetrated into the depth and breadth of reproductive rights. And after weeks of Type-A research, months of being a political paparazzi, and years of thought-marination, I feel more compelled to the pro-choice stance.

According to Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research group committed to making sure reproductive health care and policy are grounded in evidence, 61% of women receiving an abortion are already parents. Their reasons for terminating the pregnancy isn't the self-centered justifications Hollywood loves to spoon feed. A women aborts because she can't cover the water bill. Her partner is abusive. She wants to focus on being a good mother for her other children. She's a rape victim. He didn't use a condom. She's only fourteen.

But what of the Jewish approach? How does halacha dissect the controversy?

For abortion to be sanctioned by rabbis, the fetus must be in utero and the mother's life must be in peril. If her water breaks and a baby is at the point of crowning, it is given the status of a person. At this point, even if the mother's life is endangered, to terminate the labor would be considered murder.

Every day rabbis encounter particular cases of women who seek consultations about their pregnancies and each counsel is must be met with a one-size-fits-you solution. So yes there are exceptions to the mother's life catch-all protocol, such as babies with identifiable Tay-Sachs traits and other life-hindering conditions, but the cases are rare.

In my research I came across a controversial approach that considers emotional harm to the mother. While all rabbis concur that if a mother were to be truly suicidal, she could abort, many argue that in most cases depression is treatable, and therefore, veer on the side of hesitance. Only one rabbi that I've encountered, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, quotes the Tziz Eliezer and insists "Whether the suffering is physical or mental is irrelevant, since in many instances mental suffering is greater and more painful than physical distress." -Jewish Virtual Library.

According to a Pew Research report, in 2007 an estimated 84% of Jews in the United States believed that abortion should be legal. This shocking approval for abortion was greater than that of any other religion-- even greater than atheists. Over half a decade later, approval is still at 83%.

When taking a decisive stance, I can't judge sensibly without judging sympathetically. And sympathetically, I cannot say I am against abortion when I know that if G-d forbid I was got pregnant in college, with 1.5 years to graduate, with a man I wasn't married to, abortion wouldn't be an attractive consideration. I can clearly recall my sister sending me off to college with a half-serious finger wag that if I got pregnant, mom and dad would disown me.

Which makes me think, yes, G-d gave me the tender and important responsibility to be his 9-month vessel. But He also gave me the ability to be a cup that chooses not to hold water- if it means I'll drown in the process. To me, free choice is pro-choice, and that sem-girl diary entry would look a lot different with morning sickness on the tip of my tongue.

Sisterly warnings of disownership = 100% effective