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Synagogue led by ‘rabbi-rouser’ sues Florida over abortion ban

Lawsuit filed by L’Dor Va-Dor congregation says law violates Jewish teachings which require abortions to protect women; Governor’s office says law will ‘withstand’ challenge

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a 15-week abortion ban law after signing it in Kissimmee, Florida, April 14, 2022. (AP/John Raoux, File)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a 15-week abortion ban law after signing it in Kissimmee, Florida, April 14, 2022. (AP/John Raoux, File)

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (AP) — A new Florida law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks with some exceptions violates the religious freedom rights of Jews in addition to the state constitution’s privacy protections, a synagogue claims in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed by the Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor of Boynton Beach contends the law that takes effect July 1 violates Jewish teachings, which state abortion “is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman” and for other reasons.

“As such, the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom,” says the lawsuit, filed last week in Leon County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit adds that people who “do not share the religious views reflected in the act will suffer” and that it “threatens the Jewish people by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews.”

The lawsuit is the second challenge to the 15-week abortion ban enacted earlier this year by the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health providers also sued earlier this month to block the law from taking effect.

In a previous statement, DeSantis’ office said it “is confident that this law will ultimately withstand all legal challenges.”

Abortion rights demonstrators rally, Saturday, May 14, 2022, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, during protests across the country. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The two lawsuits are likely to be consolidated into a single case. A hearing on a proposed injunction to block the Florida abortion law is likely in the next two weeks.

The law mirrors a similar measure passed in Mississippi that is now before the US Supreme Court, which may use it to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision based on a leaked draft opinion. A final ruling on Roe is expected by the end of June.

Rabbi Barry Silver (Youtube screenshot)

In Florida, Rabbi Barry Silver of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor — the name means “Generation to Generation”— said it practices “cosmic Judaism,” which he defines on the synagogue’s website as “the Judaism of tomorrow today” that respects science, tradition and spirituality.

Silver is an attorney, social activist and former Democratic state legislator who styles himself as a “rabbi-rouser” on his own website. In an interview Tuesday, Silver said when separation of religion and government crumbles, religious minorities such as Jews often suffer.

“Every time that wall starts to crack, bad things start to happen,” he said, noting that DeSantis signed the law at an evangelical Christian church.

The new Florida abortion law contains exceptions if the abortion is necessary to save a mother’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow for exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest or human trafficking.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, Scholar in Residence at the National Council for Jewish Women. (Courtesy)

Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.

No faith is monolithic on the abortion issue. Yet many followers of faiths that do not prohibit abortion are aghast that a view held by a minority of Americans could supersede their individual rights and religious beliefs such as the position of Judaism as outlined in the lawsuit.

“This ruling would be outlawing abortion in cases when our religion would permit us,” said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, scholar in residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, “and it is basing its concepts of when life begins on someone else’s philosophy or theology.”

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