While on vacation in Rhode Island, one evening I turned on the TV and by chance, I arrived at a channel presenting a program called “Capitol TV.” The channel was re-broadcasting a legislative hearing that originally took place at the Rhode Island State House on April 10, 2018. My attention was immediately drawn to people sitting in a room holding up signs: “We Stand With Planned Parenthood.”
The Rhode Island Judiciary Committee Hearing held on April 10, 2018 centered on abortion legislation, and a series of pro-life bills were introduced. The odious pro-abortion bill, H 7340, known as the “Reproductive Health Care Act,” was being debated. Its purpose is to ensure that unrestricted abortion remain legal in Rhode Island should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court.
The “Reproductive Health Care Act” is anything but healthy. The bill would not permit any state regulations on abortion. The killing of babies by dismemberment abortions would be permitted for any reason up to birth. As Executive Director Bart E. Bracy of Rhode Island Right to Life revealed in his testimony, fetal viability would be left “solely to the discretion of the attending physician.” If passed, it would mean that butchers like Kermit Gosnell and Stephen Chase Brigham would be given free reign to continue killing babies and putting women’s lives in jeopardy, because there would be no oversight or safety measures in place to keep women safe.
Both sides of the abortion debate were presented and testimony given. Among the witnesses who spoke on behalf of this bill was Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman, Senior Rabbi of Temple Bethel of Rhode Island, a Reform congregation. Rabbi Voss-Altman emphatically stated his support for its passage. His comments in defense of abortion as a Jewish value are misleading, shameful and offensive. He is presenting his personal opinion, which distorts the view of traditional Judaism and is not predicated upon Jewish law or upon science, for that matter.
Here is the statement that I find most troubling:
“I believe with my heart and soul in accordance with my religious beliefs that human life beings at birth, and not before. And others believe, with their hearts and souls, in accordance with their religious beliefs that human life begins at conception. And no one in this room, not even King Solomon himself, could possibly say that one side is right and the other side is wrong. Just because I believe in my tradition does not mean that it is universally true. It just means that I believe in its value and its worth. And the same principle applies to the other side. Just because you believe something to be true does not mean it’s true. And it also does not mean that your truth is universally shared.”
First, the rabbi refers to people’s “truths” as if facts are opinions. Truth cannot be disputed. Life does not begin at birth. Science has revealed for decades that it begins at conception, and 3D ultrasound images of babies in the womb present life in all its stages. A human heartbeat proves life exists, and a heartbeat’s cessation defines death. An unborn baby’s heart begins to beat at only three weeks after fertilization. That baby is alive!
Second, the Justices in Roe v. Wade did not base their decision on when fetal life begins, but on whether an unborn baby should be granted Constitutional protection and personhood based upon the Fourteenth Amendment. The only way to establish abortion as a woman’s fundamental right was to deny the humanity of the unborn child. To admit life begins at conception would interfere with the Court’s objective to enact Roe, and prevent establishing abortion as a Constitutional right.
There are many Orthodox rabbis who would strongly dispute Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman’s ideas expressed at this hearing. One of the great rabbinic authorities, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, considered abortion murder albeit without the death penalty. Rabbi Issar Unterman considered abortion akin to murder. No Orthodox rabbi would condone one million abortions per year for choice and convenience. Rabbi Yehuda Levin regularly attends the March For Life and speaks out in defense of the unborn.
Abortion is considered a grave offense against G-d, and should be performed only in the rare circumstances where the mother’s life is at stake. That is traditional Judaism, not the rabbi’s version.
If unborn life is “potential life” – as Rabbi Voss-Altman clearly states - then it cannot be separated from creation and formation. Consider the following verse from Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you: I ordered you a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5) There is a preordained destiny that G-d intended for the prophet, crafted even before his birth. The entire passage from Psalm 139:13-16 provides intricate details of G-d’s handiwork in human creation, including G-d’s formation of our internal organs, skeleton, veins and arteries. Verse 15 states that G-d made us “in secret” (in the womb). “Thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (v. 13)
Everything that exists in the world starts with creation, followed by formation and birth. We can choose to kill an idea or it may not come to fruition, but that does not mean the idea did not exist or that it was not alive at one time.
If an unborn baby is allowed to progress from conception to birth, the creative process does not end there. Our potential to create is still in progress and continues throughout the human lifespan until humans reach their natural death.
The good news is that both the Senate and House versions of the so-called “Reproductive Health Care Act” were defeated. In Rhode Island, legislation was also defeated to legalize assisted suicide. Pro-life victories all around!
Video coverage of several important witness testimonies of the abortion bill hearings can be found at the following links:
2018-04-10 Abortion and Religion in Rhode Island
Rhode Island Right to Life Executive Director Bart Bracy
Testimony by Tyler Rowley supporting the rights of the unborn