MILWAUKEE – About 30 faith leaders gathered on July 6, 2022, outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Milwaukee’s Third Ward area, to express their dismay over the Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade.
The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle was the only media present, as those representing several faiths spoke steps away from a sign taped onto Planned Parenthood’s glass doors: “ATTENTION: Due to the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 24, abortion is now illegal in the state of Wisconsin. Abortion is still legal in the state of Illinois. In order to access their services and receive assistance, please contact ….”
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, Madison, is the chair of the organization behind the press conference, the Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
“I’m pro faith, pro-family, and pro-choice,” she said from the podium; the event was livestreamed. “I’m proud to stand with my colleagues here today. And with 118 clergy and faith leaders, who signed a letter to our elected officials urging them to protect reproductive rights.”
“The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice was formed in the wake of Roe versus Wade, because faith leaders believed then and believe now, that the decision to continue or to terminate a pregnancy should be left to the pregnant person, in consultation with their physician, and in communion with their own personal faith and right of conscience.”
Margolis said different faiths have different teachings about the nature of life, personhood installment, and under what circumstances abortion is permitted. But she and her allies all agree that “this is not the purview of politicians or government.”
This was not a Jewish event, and several faith leaders from outside the Jewish community spoke, among them the Rev. Tim Schaefer, pastor at First Baptist Church, Madison, and Rev. Denise M. Cawley, Unitarian Universalist Church-West in Brookfield.
“I fear what will happen if people cannot access safe, legal abortions,” said Cawley, who has served as a chaplain at the clinic that supplied a backdrop to her remarks. “I’ve met people … whose lives were at stake. People who were sent from hospitals that did not want to perform an abortion, even when the hospital prescribed an abortion.”
Tanya Atkinson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, talked about the weekend when the decision came down. She said: “Between Friday and Saturday, for 70 of our friends or family and our neighbors that were scheduled to receive health care … scheduled to receive an abortion, and our staff had to go out into the waiting room or on the phones and tell people that had made a decision for themselves, for their health, for their lives, for their families … had to come out and say: I’m so sorry. You don’t get to make that decision here in Wisconsin anymore. Because the reality is, politicians have made that decision for them.”
Among several Jewish attendees – generally affiliated with more liberal streams of Judaism – was Rabbi Taylor Poslosky.
“I am a person of faith, a clergy person who supports the right to choose, and I’m here on behalf of Congregation Shalom as a congregation that supports the right for pregnant people to choose their health care, including abortion,” said Poslosky, assistant rabbi with the Fox Point congregation. “I think that we are at a crossroads. Unfortunately. I think that we’re finding ourselves at a place where … one group of religious people have decided that it is their right to make a decision for all of the religions and all of the people in our country.”
“Abortion care is health care. And it’s a Jewish right. And I think that we’re in a moment where people of faith and clergy leaders … need to use their voices to amplify the fact that there are religious leaders who believe in pregnant people’s right to access abortion as healthcare.”
Cantor Martin Levson, Congregation Emanu-El of Waukesha, said the question of when life begins is theological, and it shouldn’t be for judges to decide. “That’s a theological decision that each individual has to make for themselves,” he said.
“It’s an infringement on religious rights,” said Rabbi Steven Adams, referring to the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against an establishment of religion. “And if they can do that, with this, they can do it with anything,” he said.
“Judaism is very clear,” he added. “There are many situations where abortion is expected, it’s chosen, it’s the right thing; the life of the mother takes precedence.”
Meanwhile, the words painted up high on the windows to the clinic seemed challenged yet defiant Wednesday: “Here for you no matter what.”