Testimony by Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel –
Care in the CO Constitution
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
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.