The National Council of Jewish Women Arizona is among a handful of pro-choice advocates seeking to stop the state’s new anti-abortion law from going into effect.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB1457 last April, which criminalizes some abortions and threatens abortion doctors with jail time.
NCJW AZ joined doctors Paul A. Isaacson and Eric M. Reuss, the Arizona Medical Association and the Arizona National Organization for Women in filing a lawsuit in mid-August in the U.S. District Court of Arizona seeking an injunction before restrictions take effect Sept. 29.
“This bill jeopardizes the lives of pregnant people, potentially criminalizing them, and prohibits doctors from providing evidence-based medical care,” said Civia Tamarkin, NCJW AZ’s president.
The lawsuit targets the bill’s ban on abortions based on diagnoses of fetal genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome and challenges a provision that gives fetuses the same rights as children and adults.
“From the moment this bill (SB 1457) was proposed, NCJW AZ has vigorously fought to defeat it because it violates fundamental human, civil and constitutional rights,” Tamarkin said.
Among the bill’s mandates, it would be a felony to perform an abortion solely because of a genetic abnormality, or accept or solicit money to finance an abortion because of a child’s genetic abnormality. It does not apply to cases where the child has a lethal fetal condition and does not prohibit abortion sought for other reasons allowed by law, including the life and health of the mother.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, along with county prosecutors across Arizona — including Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel — the Arizona medical Board and a handful of state health officials are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Ryan Anderson, a spokesperson for Brnovich, did not respond to a request for comment.
“There’s immeasurable value in every single life — regardless of genetic makeup,” Ducey stated when he signed the bill. “We will continue to prioritize protecting life in our preborn children, and this legislation goes a long way in protecting real human lives.”
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 83% of American Jews believe that in all or most cases, abortion should be legal, making American Jews the fourth most pro-choice group surveyed behind atheists, agnostics and Unitarians.
In February 2021, Tamarkin wrote an opinion article for Jewish News about the bill, arguing the abortion restrictions are antisemitic.
“Jewish law is clear that life begins at birth and that there is no personhood until birth, according to the Mishnah (Ohalot 7:6),” she wrote. “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.”
She went on to argue that the abortion restrictions 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.”
But Cecily Routman, president of the Jewish Pro-life Foundation, said Tamarkin’s argument is flawed.
Routman, who is not involved in the lawsuit, said Christian beliefs and values all came from the Hebrew Bible.
“Judaism was the first religion in human history to sanctify human life from conception to natural death and the first religion to prohibit child sacrifice,” she said. “The abortion industry is antithetical to Judaism, which is based on compassion, protecting innocent life, respecting women, nurturing families and living our biblical commandments to choose life and multiply and bring a vision of God’s will into the world.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona.
“Politicians should not get to decide what is an acceptable reason for seeking an abortion,” said Emily Nestler, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Patients are the ones best suited to decide what is best for themselves and their families, in consultation with their health care providers.”
The Supreme Court agreed in May to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, there have been 561 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, introduced across 47 states so far this year as of June 7, and 83 of those restrictions have been enacted across 16 states, including 10 bans. JN