St. Louis Jewish leaders plan abortion rights advocacy in wake of Texas law

About a decade ago, Rabbi Karen Bogard was pregnant with her first child. Testing revealed that she was a carrier for Tay Sachs disease, a rare disorder most common among Ashkenazi Jews and typically fatal for babies.

But a number of tests on her husband proved inconclusive, and enough time passed that the couple, then living in Ohio, was nearing the 20-week deadline in the state for when Bogard could legally undergo an abortion. (For a child to be born with Tay Sachs, both parents must have the gene.)

She said she and her husband, fellow Central Reform Congregation Rabbi Daniel Bogard, wanted autonomy to choose whether to have an abortion, rather than be shaped by this “crazy abortion week limit that has nothing to do with reality.”

It turned Daniel Bogard was not a carrier, and their son is now a healthy 10 year old.


But Karen Bogard continues to think about that experience as she advocates for abortion rights.

She is one among many local Jewish leaders concerned about those rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent refusal to block a Texas law that bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

“I know I speak for other rabbis when I say that we are so upset by this ruling, and it’s so antithetical to what we believe as Jews,” Bogard said. “At a time when women are so in need, and as a woman who had a really difficult pregnancy, my heart goes out to them.”

Bogard and rabbis at Central Reform, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Congregation Temple Israel, Kol Rinah, Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School and Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community signed a Rabbis for Repro pledge from National Council for Jewish Women committing to speaking about reproductive rights in their rabbinic capacity this year.

In addition to that pledge, Access MO, a political action committee that incorporates Jewish values into its reproductive rights advocacy, plans to host a fundraiser Sunday, Sept. 12 where they will honor State Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from St. Louis County, for her pro-choice efforts. Dana Sandweiss, a board member with Access MO and Planned Parenthood, also plans to explain and answer questions about the political process surrounding reproductive healthcare in Missouri.

The PAC sees their cause as urgent because they anticipate that the Texas law will serve as a blueprint for Missouri, whose executive branch and legislature is controlled by Republicans, meaning anti-abortion rights advocates could have an easy time passing such a law.

“Dec. 1, Missouri legislators can start prefiling bills, and I am willing to bet that we are going to see something like this in Missouri and other red states,” said Sandweiss.

She was “disappointed, scared but not surprised” by the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Abortion before viability is a constitutionally-protected right, and this law clearly violates [that]. And the Supreme Court could have addressed the actual issue, and they decided on procedural grounds to avoid the substance of the case,” said Sandweiss.

While at least 11 St. Louis rabbis signed the NCJW pledge, not all local clergy are pro-choice.

Rabbi Ze’ev Smason of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion said his views are shaped by Judaism, which “cherishes fetal life but prioritizes” the life “of the mother in tragic cases of conflict. Jewish law does require termination of the pregnancy in order to save her life, even if the child could not survive the procedure.”

As such, Smason said he would view the Supreme Court decision as a positive development if it “brings the law of the land closer to the idea that abortion should not be a choice or a last-ditch method of birth control but simultaneously provides the opportunity to save a woman’s life in a case where her life is being endangered and similarly expressed cherishing the life of an unborn child.”

Sandweiss admits that it’s likely not possible to prevent the state from following Texas “in the short term.”

But she points to the fact that her home state, Arizona, turned blue in the 2020 presidential election for the first time since 1996 as cause for optimism in the long term. She thinks legislation such as the bill passed in Texas is too extreme for some even in red states.

“We just have to be patient and smart and continue to bring others along with us,” Sandweiss said.