Tag Archives: women

The Blessings of Health and Choice vs. the Curse of Coercion

Stand Up Monday – Rally at Texas Capitol:
July 1, 2013
Clergy Opening Remarks:
“The Blessings of Health and Choice vs. the Curse of Coercion”
Rabbi Rick Brody

“Enough!” to the invasive curse of meddling lawmakers who seek to deprive women their rights.  “Yes!” to the blessings that come with the safe, free exercise of conscience. 

[Video courtesy of Roz Altmejd]

I am blessed to stand here today with courageous and resolute Texas women. I stand here as a rabbi, as a husband, and a father. As the son of Democrat and Republican parents who are both ardently pro-choice. Parents who adopted two newborn children—before a surprise pregnancy with me. Yes: my parents, my siblings, and I all know—intimately—that what’s unplanned can become a blessing; but only when choices are made freely, without the curse of coercion. There is no blessing in treating a woman’s body contrary to her wishes. And even the best-laid plans can intrude on blessing—when a woman’s health is at risk or when a fetus holds no promise of a healthy life. My tradition shares both a deep reverence for the blessing of potential life and also this adamant conviction: the blessing of a pregnant woman’s life takes precedence over the potential life of her fetus at all times—and up until the moment of birth, the fetus is part of her body.

But with clinics beyond her access, or if her doctor is denied privileges at hospitals asserting their religious views, or if certain fetal complications are not yet detectable, or when women find themselves cursed with despair in back alleys—then, the state has endangered women’s health and the state has cursed their dignity. By imposing one moral conclusion to such a profoundly complex set of choices, the state tramples my religious teachings and violates the most basic religious freedoms that are the hallmark of this great nation.

In my tradition, a pregnant woman is the best judge of her own body’s needs, even over the judgments of her doctor. And many extend the welfare of the mother to include her emotional health—in direct contrast to the current, repressive legislation. The curse of lifelong torment to a woman’s mind is no less a part of her body and no less real. Yet those with one narrow religious view in Texas seek to tell all women and their health-care providers and their religious leaders that they can make better choices for Texas women. For the sake of religious liberty, for the sake of the dignity of choice for all women, and for the sake of women’s safety and health, I stand today with Texas women and say “Enough!” to the invasive curse of meddling lawmakers who seek to deprive women their rights. And I say “Yes!” to the blessings that come with the safe, free exercise of conscience.

At the July 1 rally, immediately following this speech, Rabbi Rachel Kobrin delivered this stirring call to action.

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Women are not Cows…but Cows are not Machines

Outrage at comparisons of women to farm animals doesn’t go far enough — the deeper problem is how we relate to those farm animals to begin with.

This post is only indirectly about my relational theology or about my fascination with the charge to humanity that we can discern from the majestic creation narrative(s) from the Torah (those two themes tend to serve as the foundation of my blog). A close reading of this entry, however, will reveal its connections to those overarching themes — and I do intend to elaborate on those connections in future posts.

The assault on women’s bodies by various draconian legislators in our country is growing more and more appalling. Recently, a writer, , offered a response in the Huffington Post to a particularly offensive example of this trend, in which a Georgia state representative argued that policy regarding the rights and fate of women be based on his witnessing of the plight of various pregnant and birthing female farm animals.

The response by Ms. Chemaly was appropriately indignant. I applaud her comprehensive critique of so much of what is happening in legislatures and in public debate that is dehumanizing to women. However, what struck me about the critique is the way it passively accepts the idea of subjugation of non-human animals in a manner that reinforces the ongoing abuse so many creatures suffer. The Georgia representative that the author lampoons made this comment: “Life gives us many experiences…I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive. Delivering pigs, dead or alive. It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.” Well, sir, how many broken animal hearts is our meat-driven society responsible for? And, basically none of those animals “make it,” except into a life of misery and ultimately an early death (if they’re lucky). Ms. Chemaly infers that the representative is feeling empathy for the farm animals, and I’m sure he believes he is too. Maybe the farm he worked on was a small, family-run operation that didn’t involve the horrors of the factory-farming world and was an exception to the rule of treatment of farm animals. But regardless, it seems to me that real empathy or compassion would lead to a more serious and comprehensive reevaluation of how we relate to the rest of Creation.

I think there’s a remaining, insidious element of abuse regarding our wanton mistreatment of non-human animals that underlies the way these backward-thinking people (legislators, etc.) think and argue. It’s not JUST that female human beings are being dehumanized and deprived of their human rights; it’s also that other sentient beings are being objectified and deprived of their basic rights as living creatures. If we lived in a world where there was no tolerance for the treatment of non-human “farm animals,” “beasts,” “brutes,” etc. as nothing more than machines, then how much further from the realm of possibility it would be to even contemplate treating other human beings in such a manner. We are not confined to an “either/or” choice wherein we need to keep our abusive practices directed at other species and simply prevent them from affecting our fellow human beings. Rather, the better path is to completely overhaul the way we think of and treat all living beings and then we can guarantee that no one suffers in the ways that women’s dignity is being threatened.

My suggestion is that we take these awful comparisons of women to cows and sows not just as a wake-up call to how we treat women but also as a wake-up call to the inherently manipulative, demeaning, and abusive way we treat so many other species in our ecosystem. Let’s expand our compassion as far as we can, not draw sharp lines in the sand, beyond which deplorable behavior can remain unquestioned. Yes, women are NOT cows and pigs. But cows and pigs are NOT machines. Rather, they too are creatures of the Divine deserving of our kindness.


Note: Selections from this blog post were cited in 2014, in a scholarly article, “COMBATTING REPRODUCTIVE OPPRESSION: WHY REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE CANNOT STOP AT THE SPECIES BORDER,” published in a journal devoted to law and gender. The author contends that no other written critique of the feminist outrage discussed here was publicly available: “Seemingly only one commentator, on a personal blog, questioned the characterization of nonhuman animals. . . . . No one in the mainstream feminist community heeded [his] suggestion.”