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Rabbi's suit over Florida abortion law tests bounds of religious objections after Roe

Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Weeks before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, revoking a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, a rabbi and lawyer in Boynton Beach was preparing to take action against Florida. The state’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks, he said, directly targets Jews.

“Judaism is in conflict with this law,” Rabbi Barry Silver of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor said in an interview, explaining that Judaism supports abortions if necessary to protect the health and well-being of the mother. “We’d have to choose between practicing Judaism and this law — and if we go with Judaism, we risk criminal prosecution. I, as a rabbi, if I counsel someone to have an abortion, can be tossed in to jail.”

Across the country, Jewish organizations had watched Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, sign the abortion restriction into law in April with alarm. He chose to hold the signing ceremony at Nacion de Fe, an evangelical church in Kissimmee.

Florida’s 15-week law is scheduled to take effect Friday, but a different legal challenge by Planned Parenthood and others is before a judge in Leon County court. The judge has said he will rule from the bench on Thursday in response to plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction.

Now, having seen the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Silver said he is pursuing the lawsuit that was filed June 10, also in Leon County, with an expanded goal not just of scrapping the Florida law but of serving as a template for others challenging state abortion bans nationwide.

“It lays out the religious argument that a synagogue could make,” said Silver, “that their right to practice religion has been infringed upon.”

 

Silver’s legal challenge faces multiple headwinds. But legal experts and national Jewish organizations say they are paying close attention to the suit, viewing it as a test case in the viability of religious liberty challenges to abortion bans in a post-Roe era.

“We absolutely see this as a violation of our religious freedom,” said Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women. “In the Jewish faith, the fetus having more rights than a living, breathing human woman or a person who can get pregnant is contradictory to our law and tradition.”

“We’re following this Florida lawsuit with anticipation,” Katz said. “We do want to see what works or doesn’t work with it. And we’ll be learning from it.”

High legal bar

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