By Alex Krutchik and Jillian Diamond
Jewish Baltimoreans headed to Washington, D.C., last week to join other Jews from across the country in protesting the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade.
They were there to attend The Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice, held at the National Mall on Tuesday, May 17. The rally was originally meant to be the closing gathering of the National Council of Jewish Women’s annual Washington Institute conference, but after a draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked, the program grew into a protest of more than 1,000 attendees.
“For too long, this country has allowed a small but loud group from the religious right to dominate the narrative around abortion and religion, claiming that abortion access is a violation of religious freedom,” NCJW CEO Sheila Katz told the crowd.
Katz was one of many speakers who decried a return to the prohibition of abortion, a goal of Roe v. Wade’s opponents. She said as many as 36 million Americans could be “forced into pregnancy” after the overruling of Roe v. Wade.
Katz said that a ban on abortion contradicts Jewish law, which requires it when the life of a pregnant person is at risk.
“Now, more than ever, we need Jewish, moral leadership to speak out for reproductive health, rights and justice,” Katz said.
Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, an arm of the Reform movement, told the crowd about her great-grandmother, who had to have two “knitting needle” abortions on her kitchen table 100 years ago. Person said her great-grandmother survived, but that today’s safe options must be protected and accessible to all.
“I am here to say proudly that the Reform movement and Reform rabbis believe that abortion access is essential health care, a basic human right and a Jewish value,” Person said.
Several Baltimore synagogues organized transportation for their congregations so they could protest as a group. This included Bolton Street Synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Beth Am Synagogue — the last of which bussed 28 people to the rally.
Bolton Street Synagogue board member Marc Wernick described the protest as “galvanizing.”
“It’s important that people of faith show support,” he said on why he attended. “The religious right paints this [issue] with a single thread rather than a tapestry of many colors and nuanced opinions.”
Wernick also worries that overturning Roe v. Wade will put the Supreme Court on a “slippery slope.”
“If they get rid of Roe, they might come for birth control, and then marriage equality … which is worrying, as a queer man,” he said.
Wernick said that a diverse group of people attended the protest. Participating made him feel like he was part of a community, and that something could be done with all of them working together to protect reproductive rights.
Ursula Suskin, another Bolton Street Synagogue member, also noted the diversity of the crowd. She said that Jewish people from all denominations attended the rally, with speakers ranging from Reform Jews to Orthodox rabbis championing reproductive rights.
“It was great to be around people from all different states and different cities,” she said.