Thursday, April 18, 2024

My Words At the Rally Celebrating Coloradans for Protecting Reproductive Freedom Petition "Turn In Day"

Today was a vitally important day in the struggle to ensure Abortion Care for all in Colorado. Coloradans for Protecting Reproductive Freedom is a coalition of faith leaders, community activists and concerned citizens who have been working to ensure that Reproductive Health Care will be affordable and available to all citizens of our State.  I was asked to speak last January at the kickoff rally for the initiative to gather signatures to enshrine this right in our State Constitution and place it on the ballot in November,  Today, I spoke at the rally celebrating the successful completion of this initiative.  These are my words:

My name is Rabbi Joseph Black.  I serve as Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Denver. I stand here today to celebrate the fact that we have gathered enough signatures to ensure that the voters of our state will be able to enshrine abortion access in the Colorado State Constitution this coming November. 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. I thank God and modern medicine that we have two healthy children and a beautiful 9-month old grandchild.

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.

To choose to terminate a pregnancy is not easy – but there are times when it is absolutely the correct thing to do. It is essential 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. WE also must ensure that the current ban on State funds covering the costs of abortion care is eliminated. Everyone should have access to health care.  Proposition 89will ensure that abortion will be safe, legal, accessible and affordable to all. 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.

Thank you.

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