A lawsuit filed by a Jewish congregation argues that abortion restrictions set to take effect in Florida in July infringe on the right to religious freedom. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s challenge to the Roe vs. Wade decision, could this action serve as a model for other legal challenges?
Florida did not wait the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe vs. Wade for tighten the conditions for access to abortion. In response, a synagogue in Palm Beach County filed a complaint Friday, June 10 against its state to ask it to abandon its anti-abortion law. According to the complaint, the new legislation violates religious freedom and Jewish law which guarantees the right to abortion.
From 1er July, the right of Floridian women to have an abortion will indeed be considerably restricted. After fifteen weeks, they will no longer have the right to terminate their pregnancy – against twenty-four weeks previously – and this, even in the event of rape or incest. The only exceptions allowed will be a “serious risk” to the health of the mother, as well as an anomaly that could lead to the death of the fetus.
However, these restrictions go against the right of Jewish women to have an abortion as well as the right to privacy and religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution of the State of Florida, say the 150 plaintiffs of the progressive congregation The Dor Va-Dor led by Rabbi Barry Silver.
According to the complaint filed by the synagogue, “if a fetus poses a threat to the health or well-being of its mother, at any stage of pregnancy, Jewish law not only recommends, but requires the mother to interrupt him to protect herself”.
This legal action was prepared ahead of the expected decision of the Supreme Court of the United States which on Friday June 24 put an end to the federal right in force since 1973 to abort in the whole country.
The questioning of the Roe vs. Wade judgment now allows each state to pass its own laws on abortion. Thus, 26 conservative states should soon limit or prohibit abortion.
In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis quickly promised to expand “protections for life”, in addition to new legislation due to come into effect in early July.
Like the Jewish Congregation of Palm Beach, many pro-abortion Americans have sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s decision. “The National Women’s Law Center” thus denounced “an extremist attack”, while the American president, Joe Biden, promised that his administration would do everything to preserve the rights of women to have an abortion.
If the complaint filed by the synagogue against the State of Florida may seem anecdotal, it is nevertheless based on well-established case law. In the United States, religious freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, unlike the right to abortion.
Promoting religious freedom “provides a much stronger legal basis” than trying to reintroduce laws in favor of abortion, analyzes Emma Long, professor of law and political science at the University of East Anglia in England. “Legally, it’s very clever. Making this issue a constitutional matter is the only alternative.”
Growing influence of evangelists
Generally speaking, Jewish law states that life begins at birth. Before that, the life of the mother is considered a priority. “In order to promote the health of pregnant women, abortion is permitted and even compulsory in some cases,” said Samira Mehta, gender specialist and professor of Jewish studies at the University of Colorado.
However, this positioning may vary depending on the community. However, “there is a consensus that abortion is a right”, says Samira Mehta. “And that this right is a matter of religion, not of a political decision”.
Historically, American courts are sensitive to the arguments brought by religious minorities who seek to escape from the general law to preserve their traditions. Thus, in 1996, Native American groups were allowed to consume peyote [aussi appelé mescal]a banned hallucinogenic substance, in religious ceremonies.
“However, for the past fifteen years, the Supreme Court has used the religious freedom argument to favor majority religious groups, particularly evangelical christians“, analyzes Emma Long.
According to the National Council of Jewish Women, the abortion issue in the United States has been dominated by Christians while “Jewish voices” have been totally ignored. An opinion shared by congregation L’Dor Vador which ensures that the new anti-abortion legislation “imposes on Jews the laws of other religions”.
“We see that in the United States a very powerful conservative minority among Protestants and Catholics seeks to impose behavior that goes against other religious beliefs,” said Samira Mehta. “Yet religious freedom is deeply entrenched in American law. So what happens when these rights come into conflict?
“Nothing to lose”
The lawsuit initiated by the Dor Vader Synagogue could pave the way for similar complaints in other states and potentially have nationwide implications.
However, the outcome remains more than uncertain, explains Samir Mehta. “Most likely is that there will be no quick or easy victory for those fighting for abortion rights. Instead, many legal hurdles and bitter battles can be predicted in every state. “.
>> To read also on France 24: WOMEN’S RIGHTS – Testimonials: in Texas, abortion is already almost impossible
In this regard, the outcome of the lawsuit filed in Florida could prove crucial. If that fails, other courts could be tempted to reject the same arguments, further rolling back the right to abortion in the United States.
“The stakes are indeed very high,” says Emma Long. “But we can also estimate that since the questioning of the judgment Roe vs. Wade, there is nothing more nothing to lose to try”.
Article translated and adapted from English by Grégoire Sauvage. The original is to be found here.