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Chanel Dubofksy

Molly Wernick Advocates for the Separation of Church and State

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018, fear, panic, and dread rose up in the throats of pro-choice Americans. The precarious position of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision protecting a person’s choice to have an abortion, was one that people had been well aware of since before the election of Donald Trump in November 2016, but Kennedy’s retirement provided the opportunity to appoint another anti-choice justice who could eviscerate Roe if and when the time came.

For Molly Wernick, who oversees Community Engagement initiatives for Habonim Dror Camp Galil in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s choice to replace Kennedy, meant the transformation of the abortion debate, from “something that didn’t threaten my life and future to something that did.” Her response came in the form of an article for Medium, written the second day of Rosh Hashanah 2018, in which she wrote about learning that she and her husband were both carriers of Tay Sachs disease, an inherited, degenerative condition which leads to death in children, typically by about the age of four. In a post-Roe America, Wernick reflects, she, as a person of privilege, would be able to access an abortion, which isn’t the case for many others. As a result of the article, Wernick told Lilith, people came forward to tell their stories of abortion and miscarriage, stories they had kept secret until then, out of a sense of shame.

But there’s another element to the abortion rights conversation, and that has to do with the separation of church and state. “It’s also a slap in the face to my own religious freedom,” says Wernick. While the Christian belief that life begins at conception controls the anti-choice actions leading to abortion legislation, Wernick points out that that’s not what the Jewish view of abortion is. “For the first 40 days of gestation, a fetus is considered “mere fluid” (Talmud Yevamot 69b), and the fetus is regarded as part of the mother for the duration of the pregnancy,” wrote Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, on Twitter in May 2019. (Read the entire thread, it’s a great 101 on Judaism and abortion.) Restricting, and attempting to ban legal abortion altogether on the basis of Christian interpretation, explicitly violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion.

From the Lilith Blog.