Among the marauding mix of white nationalist, neo-Nazi, Christian militia and QAnon insurrectionists storming through the Capitol on Jan. 6, calling for the hanging of then-Vice President Mike Pence and hunting down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with seeming intent to harm, were prominent anti-abortion militants. The Stop The Steal rally brought together so-called abolitionists who want abortion criminalized as murder and anti-abortion groups and individuals associated with domestic terrorism, including a convicted clinic bomber.
Jeff Durbin was also there. A pastor at Apologia Church in Mesa and the founder of End Abortion Now, which harasses clinics and tries to persuade local lawmakers to create sanctuary cities for the unborn, Durbin live-streamed a report from across the street as throngs scaled the building.
“Regardless of what happens here in D.C.,” he said to the crowd, his group was working in 13 states, “with legislation that’s consistent with scripture — that is, in fact, very Christian legislation that would criminalize abortion.” Revealing that such legislation was coming to Arizona, he noted, “It’s about the Gospel.”
Beside him, a man with the group Red State Reform who sounded like the Commander from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” added, “As Christians, we need to be concerned about godly government. We serve Lord Jesus Christ and he orders godly government.”
Sixteen days later, on the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, Arizona Republican state Rep. Walt Blackman introduced draconian anti-abortion legislation requiring the death penalty for mothers and doctors. Behind him was Durbin.
Initially, my friends and colleagues around the country laughingly dismissed the bill as “Arizona craziness,” until I insisted this was no aberration — not in a state that boasts some of the most extremist anti-abortion laws in the county. Not in a state that long has been a test run for anti-abortion laws. Not in a state that was first to mandate 24-hour waiting periods, forced sonograms, a plethora of intrusive patient questionnaires and more required medical reports filed with the state than any other field in the practice of medicine.
As expected, the first-degree homicide bill, SB 2650, was just the start of an onslaught of radical, restrictive bills — all intended to outlaw abortion and contraception by granting personhood to a fetus at every stage of development. Fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos and fetuses would have full rights, privileges and protections as people under Arizona law.
From requiring burial or cremation for aborted remains and prohibiting abortions for genetic abnormalities, to banning medical schools and university hospitals from referring or consulting on abortion and contraceptives, these bills are moving swiftly through the Arizona Legislature. They effectively remove protections in current law for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss. By designating a fetus as a person, this bill could turn anyone who is pregnant into a criminal.
Worse, a bill that provides full protection and immunity to a doctor who chooses to opt-out of treating a patient because of a religious objection and makes no exception or accommodation for a life-or-death medical emergency. The collateral damage from legislatures and courts intervening in reproductive health care and the tragic consequences of religious refusal of patient treatment abound across the country. Studies show a direct correlation between U.S. maternal mortality rate and lack of access to abortion and the full spectrum of reproductive health care. Not surprisingly, the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality of any industrialized country.
As Arizonans, as Americans and especially, as Jews, it is imperative that we sound alarms and rise up to defeat these bills from becoming law. The battle goes beyond a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and reproductive justice. This is a fight to fend off an encroaching theocracy and protect our religious freedom as Jews. And that is not an alarmist overstatement.
Jewish law is clear that life begins at birth and that there is no personhood until birth, according to the Mishnah (Ohalot 7:6). Judaism also teaches that the mother’s life comes first and that the fetus may be sacrificed to save her life, unless the baby’s head has already emerged.
Our freedom to practice Judaism is being trampled by Arizona’s anti-abortion personhood legislation. There is no subterfuge, no misunderstanding. The bills represent expressed and purposeful strategies to enshrine Christian beliefs into law and they blatantly violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prevents the passage of any law that gives preference to or forces belief in one religion.
Reproductive justice, the human right to have a child or not have a child, and to raise that child in a safe, viable, sustainable environment is the framework through which National Council of Jewish Women advocates for social justice. But the imminent danger posed by the extremist anti-abortion legislation demands we shift the paradigm and recognize what is happening through the lens of anti-Semitism.
The nexus between Christian ideologues, white supremacists and anti-abortionists has been developing for 40 years. We saw it explode on Jan. 6 and we see it erupting in Arizona and other states. Unless we do everything in our power to stop this force, we might well face a new Inquisition as Marranos on the road to Gilead. JN
Civia Tamarkin, president of National Council of Jewish Women, Arizona, is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker of the documentary “Birthright: A War Story.”