Where Things Stand: Florida Synagogue Sues To Challenge 15-Week Abortion Ban As Violation Of Jewish Law

This is your TPM evening briefing.
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 17: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference at the University of Miami Health System Don Soffer Clinical Research Center on May 17, 2022 in Miami, Florida. The governor held th... MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 17: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference at the University of Miami Health System Don Soffer Clinical Research Center on May 17, 2022 in Miami, Florida. The governor held the press conference to announce that the state of Florida would be providing $100 million for Florida's cancer research centers, after he signs the state budget into law. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Congregants from a synagogue in South Florida are suing to block the state’s 15-week abortion ban from going into effect on July 1, arguing the law violates their religious freedom as adherents of Jewish law.

Abortion clinics in the same county as the synagogue also sued earlier this month, according to the Miami Herald, arguing the ban, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in April, violates constitutional rights. Both lawsuits argue that the law violates a privacy right in Florida’s state constitution.

But the latest suit, brought by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, makes a novel argument about the harms of the ban, suggesting the new restriction violates Jewish people’s religious freedom.

“For Jews, all life is precious and thus the decision to bring new life into the world is not taken lightly or determined by state fiat,” the lawsuit reads, according to the Miami Herald. “In Jewish law, abortion is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman, or for many other reasons not permitted under the act [the 15-week ban]. As such, the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and thus violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”

While not as restrictive as other outright bans proposed and passed in some red states ahead of the impending SCOTUS ruling that will almost certainly overturn Roe, Florida’s law targets abortion providers and physicians who perform the procedure after 15 weeks. It also provides no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking.

The lawsuit filed by the synagogue names DeSantis and other state officials as defendants and argues that the ban “threatens the Jewish people by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews.”

If you, like me, did not know about the Jewish faith’s views on abortion before today, this piece in The Atlantic by Danya Ruttenberg is incredibly illuminating. Jewish scholars have found evidence for how to approach abortion through interpretation of a story in Exodus that deals with the legal repercussions for someone who might harm a pregnant person during a fight. If the pregnant person miscarries, the person who harmed the pregnant person must pay a fine. If the pregnant person dies, the action is equivalent to manslaughter. “The meaning is clear,” Ruttenberg wrote. “The fetus is regarded as potential life, rather than actual life.”

Ruttenberg also cites two other sacred Jewish texts that discuss ideas about the consciousness of a person versus a fetus. Both feed into Jewish people’s support for abortion.

This idea is underscored in the Talmud, a collection of statements from ancient rabbis. One declares that, for the first 40 days of pregnancy, a fetus is “merely water”—essentially, it has no legal status at all. From the end of that 40-day period until the end of the pregnancy, it’s regarded as part of the pregnant person’s body—“as its mother’s thigh,” the Talmud says. Here, again, the fetus is secondary to the adult human carrying it.

This becomes most clear when a pregnancy or labor endangers the pregnant person. According to a roughly 2,000-year-old source called the Mishnah (the core of the Talmud), abortion is explicitly called for to save their life. The life of the baby comes into consideration only once the head has emerged. But beyond life-or-death situations, Jewish law permits abortion in situations where carrying the fetus to term would cause “woe”—and that includes risks to mental health or to kavod habriot (dignity).

“Abortion access, then, is a matter of religious freedom,” she concludes, highlighting the basis of the L’Dor Va-Dor’s argument.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s what you should read this evening:

In case you missed it this morning, read the latest from Matt Shuham: A Far Right Law Enforcement Movement Is Fueling The Effort To Infiltrate Voting Machines

Alleged Proud Boys Plan For Jan. 6 Revealed In Court Filing

Federal Judge Rejects Bannon’s Effort To Toss Contempt Of Congress Charges

With Chilling Surveillance Vids, Jan. 6 Panel Reveals Why It’s Still Concerned About GOPer’s Tour

Election Denier Becomes GOP Nominee For Nevada’s Top Election Official

New Mexico GOP County Commission Refuses To Certify Primary Election Results

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

U-Haul White Supremacist’s Mom Says She Kicked Son Out Of The House — Cristina Cabrera

What We Are Reading

Former Meadows aide may testify publicly after dropping Trump-linked attorney — Jim Acosta and Zachary Cohen

A Woman Who Spent Years Telling Sandy Hook Parents Their Kids Were Never Killed Explains Why She Did It — Elizabeth Williamson

More people are avoiding the news, and trusting it less, report says — Helen Coster

Latest Editors' Blog
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: