(RNS) — “Have fun trying!”
It was the early 1990s. That was what people would say to us — a married couple in our late 30s — when they heard that we were trying to have a second child.
But it was hardly “fun.” We were battling secondary infertility. The “having a second child” project was about temperature-taking, calendar watching and the triumph of biology over desire.
It was also about disappointment upon disappointment — when our attempts were unsuccessful.
Or, worse — when those attempts resulted in miscarriages.
One of those miscarriages occurred on the day before Rosh Hashana.
I will never forget that Rosh Hashana.
I had to be on the pulpit, leading services. To hear the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac — the near sacrifice of a long-awaited son. To hear the sounds of the shofar, imagining that they are the cries of a newborn, and hearing the words: “Today is the birthday of the world.”
To hear the haftarah (the reading from the prophets) of Hannah’s struggle to have a child. Hearing how she wept. Hearing how jealous she was of Peninah, her rival, who had no trouble getting pregnant.
We could hardly bear to be around pregnant women, or families with newborns. I once experienced terrible vertigo at a brit ceremony and collapsed. My body was reminding me of how difficult this was for me.
Many times, we said to each other: “Maybe this is it. Maybe we will just have one child. Many people do, and they are happy.”
But, we knew that we would not live forever. We wanted a sibling for our child. We wanted two Jews to take our places.
Finally, finally, finally: a viable pregnancy.
Imagine our horror, therefore, when the amniocentesis revealed that the fetus was carrying a rare genetic abnormality.
The baby would live — who knew? — six days, six months, or six years.
We talked about it — endlessly, calmly, and with anguish. We sought out moral counsel.
I know what confirmed the ultimate decision. It was the fact that we already had a 5-year-old child. The idea of subjecting this child — much less, ourselves — to the ultimate early death of this unborn child seemed too cruel to imagine.
Therefore, we made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. It was toward the end of the second trimester.
The procedure would happen at Long Island Jewish Hospital — where I was born, where my mother died and where, ultimately, in late summer 1992, that long-awaited second child would be born.
This brings me, of course, to the Texas Heartbeat Act, which has effectively banned all abortions — with the Supreme Court allowing the law to be enacted. This law endangers the basic human rights of women — to make their own choices about their own bodies — choices that are always difficult and tragic.
I stand up for the reproductive freedom of women. I stand up for the power and the necessity of choice.
I do so, out of a profound understanding of the difficulty of this choice. I reject anyone’s ability — outside of a tight circle of concern and care — to be part of a decision about the most intimate places of another person’s body.
Moreover, this law actually calls upon Texans to become pseudo-vigilante enforcers. It incentivizes people to sue anyone ostensibly “aiding or abetting” abortions. In fact, there is already a website for precisely that — Pro Life Whistleblowers — that encourages people to send in anonymous tips.
In this direction, totalitarianism awaits.
Had we been going through this heartache now, in the state of Texas, this pregnancy would have had to go full term.
It would be worse, actually. A meddlesome and judgmental congregant, or someone else, who discovered that we were considering abortion; or someone who knew the name of the medical professional who had advised us regarding our options; or, for that matter, someone who knew that an Uber driver took us to a facility — whatever — that person would be in the position of getting a $10,000 check for “ratting us out.”
My experience, more than three decades ago, placed a triad of sensitivities within me.
First, a sensitivity for the moral autonomy of women about what happens to their bodies.
Second, a sensitivity and admiration for the classic Jewish position on abortion. For Jews, the physical and even emotional health of the mother takes precedence. Texas law would now prohibit certain abortions that experts on halacha (Jewish law) would actually mandate. To what voice should a Jewish woman now hearken — the governor of Texas, or her Orthodox rabbi?
Let me be clear. I respect those whose faith would mandate a different decision. But, my religious sensibilities will not necessarily mandate the same choices. A basic civics lesson: In the United States, we do not allow religious groups to dictate personal decisions to others.
Third, I developed a sensitivity for those who choose to carry a child who will live a short and/or seriously compromised life. My soul explodes with admiration for them and the courage that this choice will require.
But, let no one think that such courage is automatically exportable, and that it must now become the societal norm.
Surely, the evangelicals who have made a crusade out of the anti-choice project know their Bible as well as anyone (and better than most).
I recommend that they revisit this verse from Proverbs: “The heart alone knows its bitterness, and no outsider can share in its joy” (Proverbs 14:10).
On this day after Rosh Hashana, I pause to ponder our scriptural readings for the holiday and how many voices of women are within them. Hagar, cast out into the wilderness with her son, Ishmael; Sarah, believing that Abraham has sacrificed their beloved son, Isaac; Hannah, praying for a child; Rachel, worrying about the fate of her descendants.
What do they all have in common?
They are shrieking, weeping, howling — so much so, that the Talmud actually refers to Rosh Hashana as yom yevava — a day of howling.
Let us not sit back as the howls of contemporary women become louder.
Those will be cries for justice, and they will resonate, and they will echo.