Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent comments that abortion is “morally indefensible” and “life is sacrosanct and begins at the point of conception” – from his understanding of the Catholic Church’s position – have reignited age-old debates about the relationship between reproductive rights and religion.
Indeed Rees-Mogg, who could be the next Tory leader and therefore prime minister if recent polls prove correct, says his faith means he is “completely opposed” to abortion in all cases, including rape and incest.
However, the truth is ‘religion’ has never been univocal on this issue. Certainly the Jewish tradition has never been. Even the more stringent Orthodox interpreters of Jewish law approach the issue of abortion from the standpoint of protecting the life of the mother over what is seen as the potential life of the foetus.
This emphasis on the greater rights of the already living human being, the mother, underlines the fact that ‘religion’, as a whole, as in every other case, does not speak with one voice – and that the Jewish tradition in particular is very multi-faceted on the subject.
From this inheritance, Progressive Jewish movements place the emphasis on the life and choice of the mother – her reproductive rights – over the potential life of a foetus.
We believe this is not only a political, ‘modern’ position, but a religiously mandated one as well. Just as Rees-Mogg’s belief that his religion mandates abortion be illegal – Liberal Judaism’s religious understanding guarantees the rights of a woman over her own body.
In the Progressive Jewish worldview – a religious perspective founded on rationalism, egalitarianism, individual autonomy, and communal responsibility – a women’s right to choose becomes foundational.
We honour the life that already exists, the life of the woman, over potential life yet to be.
Our commitment to egalitarianism further reinforces our deep commitment to women’s rights, of which her reproductive rights over her own physical and psychological well-being are integral.
Rees-Mogg’s opinion isolates and alienates each woman as a victim and takes away their dignity of choice, rather than lifting up her life and her rights as religion does and should do.
Leah Jordan is Liberal Judaism’s student chaplain