3 Jewish Women File Lawsuit Against Kentucky Abortion Ban on Religious Grounds

(RNS) – Three Jewish women in Kentucky have filed a lawsuit arguing that their religious rights are violated by a set of state laws that ban most abortions.

The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, is the third such lawsuit filed by Jewish organizations or individuals since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in his decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In all three lawsuits — the first in Florida, the second in Indiana — Jewish plaintiffs claim their state infringes on their religious freedom by imposing a Christian understanding of early life.

Under current Kentucky law, life begins at the time of fertilization. Another law prohibits abortion after six weeks when heart activity is first detected.

Abortion will be on the ballot next month when Kentuckians decide the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate the right to abortion in the state.

“There is a whole patchwork of laws, passed over the last 20 years,” said Ben Potash, one of the lawyers who filed the complaint. “They are internally inconsistent and, put together, very vague.”

Most Jews believe that abortion is legal and, in some cases, even compulsory.

“Judaism never defined life from conception,” the lawsuit said, adding that “millennia of commentary by Jewish scholars reaffirmed Judaism’s commitment to reproductive rights.”

RELATED: With Roe in peril, abortion rights advocates prepare calls for religious freedom

Women aren’t the first to challenge Kentucky’s abortion bans. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood sued this state shortly after the Dobbs decision was released.

What’s distinct about the latest lawsuit is that the three Jewish women need in vitro fertilization to become pregnant, but are afraid to start the procedure without more clarity on what the law will allow them to do with it. excess frozen embryos. The lawsuit claims the women must pay exorbitant fees to keep their embryos frozen indefinitely, and they don’t know if they will face felony charges if they dispose of them.

Also, because pregnancies resulting from infertility treatments have a higher rate of stillbirths, women anticipate the possibility of not wanting to carry their pregnancy to term through IVF if the fetus is not viable.

The law “does not impose clear standards, rules, or regulations regarding the potential experiences of prospective birth donors with respect to their access to reproductive technologies,” the lawsuit asserts.

In that sense, the Kentucky lawsuit is about women wanting to give birth, not women wanting an abortion, said Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which counsels women.

“It’s a scary time to be pregnant,” Katz said. “The state tells them that their life is not as valuable as the fetus. These women say, A: It’s against our religious tradition, and B, ‘You owe it to us to be less vague about what it will look like so that we can start our families.’

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, Oct. 6, reuses a legal tactic successfully used by conservative Christian groups in recent years.

In June, a Florida Jewish congregation filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s 15-week abortion ban — enacted by Governor Ron DeSantis — prohibits Jewish women from practicing their religion without intrusion. of the government.

In September, a group called Hoosier Jews for Choice filed a lawsuit, claiming, among other things, that Indiana’s law banning abortion violates the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The NCJW supports and advises Jews in the three states where abortion restrictions are being challenged in court.

The women say the abortion ban also violates Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This law states that the government “shall not substantially interfere with a person’s freedom of religion” unless it demonstrates a compelling interest and uses “the least restrictive means” to do so.

“If you are Jewish, you have a very narrow idea of ​​when life begins that is forced upon you, which is inconsistent with our religious beliefs about when life begins,” said Lisa Sobel, 38, one women in the trial.

She said she met the other plaintiffs, Jessica Kalb and Sarah Barton, through the Louisville Jewish Community. All three require IVF treatments to have children.

“When Dobbs fell,” Sobel said, referring to Dobbs v. Jackson, the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down a constitutional right to abortion, “we didn’t know what to do.”

RELATED: Abortion is a ‘freedom’ issue for Biden and Democrats

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