Monday, January 22, 2024

My Words From the Kickoff for the Colorado Ballot Initiative to Ensure Abortion Rights in the State Constitution


Testimony by Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO

Abortion Care in the CO Constitution

January 22, 2024


I am here today in support of enshrining abortion access in the Colorado State Constitution. I have come to speak because, in addition to strongly supporting the right for all to have access to health care, this is also personal.  When my wife and I decided to get married 35 years ago, we looked forward to raising our children in a home filled with love and Jewish tradition.   As a rabbi, I had worked with many couples in preparation for marriage and I knew that since both of us were Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews, there was a slight possibility that one or both of us might carry the gene for Tay-Sachs – a rare, incurable genetic disorder that results in a painful and gruesome death - usually within five years of birth.  Both my wife, Sue, and I discovered that we were carriers of Tay-Sachs. Thankfully, 33 years ago, in 1991, we were blessed by the birth of our healthy daughter. 

Our luck changed with our second pregnancy, however. To hear from our doctor that the embryo that we so desperately wanted to bring to term had a fatal disease was devastating.  Thankfully, at that time, abortion was legal and safe.  As difficult as it was to say goodbye to the hopes and dreams of a second baby, the thought of having to care for and eventually bury a suffering child was unpalatable.  Termination of the pregnancy was the obvious choice. Sue received excellent care and together we grieved the loss of what might have been.

Three years after the birth of our first child, we were blessed with a son. Today, our children are healthy. Our daughter was recently married to a wonderful young man who, like us, is also of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, but thankfully, is not a Tay-Sachs carrier. We now have a beautiful 6-month-old grandson who is the apple of our eye.

I stand here today in support of this initiative because I believe strongly that government should never put itself in a position to legislate how people can care for their own bodies. Abortion care is health care.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 30, verse 19, we find the following text that is often used against abortion rights. It reads as follows:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, that you and your descendants may live! 

The words, “choose life” are quite powerful.  But they also can be spun and defined in a variety of ways. They can used to motivate us to live to our highest potential – choosing God’s loftiest ideals for our daily living and the choices we make, or they can be used as a weapon to narrowly define an agenda of intolerance.

There are too many individuals and organizations who want to impose their own fundamentalist and draconian definition of when life begins – For those who oppose Abortion Care, this means that the government has both the ability and responsibility to legislate individual’s bodies without regard to personal freedom, physical or mental health, abuse, rape, or economic hardship.

For me – the words, “Choose Life” mean that as humans blessed with the precious gift of life, we have a responsibility to live our lives in ways that affirm the highest aspirations of humanity.  It does not mean imposing our narrow understandings of life’s questions, traumas and values on others – nor does it disavow us from disagreeing on the many complex paradoxes with which we are confronted on a daily basis.

The passions that inflame anti-Abortion advocates cross the line of healthy disagreement and enter dangerous authoritarian oppression of some of the most vulnerable in our midst. My wife and I, due to our outspoken support of Abortion rights have been targeted by activists with vile threats and condemnation of our personal choices.

The decision to have an abortion is very difficult and painful.  It should never be taken lightly.  To choose to terminate a pregnancy for any reason is traumatic. And yet, I also feel - passionately - that such a decision should be made by individual people – who may or may not choose to consult with family (whenever possible), or clergy, or counselors or even God. But we have no right to legislate their personal and painful choices. Enshrining Abortion care in the Colorado State Constitution will help to ensure that every citizen of our state will have the right to make medical decisions free from government interference into the most intimate aspects of our lives. Anything else is antithetical to the foundation of the separation of religion and state upon which our nation was founded and for which too many have died.

There are those who have struggled with the issue of abortion and, after deliberate and careful analysis – after much prayer and reflection – have concluded that they cannot support an individual’s right to have an abortion.  While I, personally, do not agree with them, I respect their deliberation and I feel that the process of dialogue and discussion is vitally important.  We can agree to disagree- honoring the process that has brought us to our own conclusions.  But when these disagreements become the basis for government overreach that represses and demonizes, a dangerous line has been crossed. It is for this reason that we must pass this proposition and guarantee access to abortion care in the Colorado State Constitution.

Thank you.


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