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Jewish groups on both sides as Congress moves
against partial-birth abortion.
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OPEN TO THE COMMUNITY
"If the Pied Piper had been
twins, odds are he would
have been Gemini."
The Detroit News
MATTHEW E. BERGER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
ewish groups are closely
monitoring progress on a
new late-term abortion bill
that could become law by
the end of the week.
The bill, which outlaws a specific
procedure technically known as intact
dilation and evacuation, is opposed
by a majority of Jewish organizations.
They say it criminalizes a medical
At least one Orthodox group sup-
ports the bill, known as the Partial-
Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,
arguing that the procedure may be a
form of infanticide.
The issue for the Jewish communi-
ty centers around different interpreta-
tions of Halachah, or Jewish law, and
whether the mother's health is more
important than the life of a fetus.
Both sides are gearing up for what
they believe will be a long court bat-
The U.S. Senate passed the ban
Tuesday, Oct. 21, 64-34, three weeks
after the House of Representatives
passed the same act 281 142.
President Bush supports the bill and
is expected to sign the legislation into
law. President Clinton vetoed similar
The measure would be the first
restricting abortion to become federal
law since the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled on Roe v. Wade in 1973. In a
so-called "partial-birth abortion," the
fetus is partially delivered and then a
doctor punctures its skull. The proce-
dure is generally carried out relatively
late in a pregnancy.
Under the new law, doctors who
perform the procedure could be fined
and jailed for up to two years.
Abortion opponents argue that
fetuses that are inches away from
being born should be protected.
"The gruesome and inhumane
nature of the partial-birth abortion
procedure and its disturbing similari-
ty to the killing of a newborn infant
promotes a complete disregard for
infant human life that can only be
countered by a prohibition of the
procedure," the legislation says.
Supporters of abortion rights say
the procedure is necessary in
instances when the mother's health is
at stake. While the legislation does
exempt doctors who perform the pro-
cedure to save the mother's life, many
Jewish groups want that provision
widened to protect a mother's physi-
cal and mental health. But supporters
of the ban say there is no evidence of
the procedure being used to protect a
Lawmakers say they have gathered
information that shows that the pro-
cedure is never used to preserve the
health of a woman, that it even poses
significant risks to the mother and is
outside the standard of medical care.
Abortion-rights advocates counter
that the bill is vague and could have
a chilling effect on doctors who per-
form other types of abortions.
"The language is so murky that
you can't be sure it only covers these
late-term abortions," said Lois
Waldman, director of the commis-
sion on women's equality of the
American Jewish Congress.
When Is Birth?
But one Orthodox group argues that
a more narrow interpretation of
abortion law is warranted.
"The larger question on abortion,
which is a very fair question, is: Do
we need to have a law that provides
a blanket right?" said Rabbi David
Zwiebel, executive vice president for
government and public affairs at
Agudath Israel of America. "The
notion that fetal life deserves no pro-
tection is wrong."
Jewish groups on both sides of the
issue are relying on different inter-
pretations of Halachah to support
their arguments. Reform leaders cite
laws indicating that the life of the
mother is paramount and has a high-
er value than the "potential life" of
"In Jewish law, we are commanded
to take care of our health and the
well-being of our bodies," said
Barbara Weinstein, legislative direc-
tor for the Religious Action Center