Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Dennis C. Sasso: Reproductive rights in Indiana: An open letter

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Should the Legislature change Indiana’s abortion law during an upcoming special session?

Dear Gov. Holcomb and Indiana legislators:

The Indiana General Assembly will address issues of abortion and reproductive rights at a special session (starting July 25), in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. At this crucial time, we ask you to consider the following:

Maternal health care and mortality

The United States ranks poorly in maternal care and mortality when compared to other developed countries. Indiana’s maternal mortality rate is the third-worst in the nation. Before the Roe v. Wade landmark decision in 1973, unconscionable numbers of women died from abortion procedures. Since 1973, death from termination of pregnancy has become rare. Despite new restrictive legislation, many women will continue to seek abortions. The difference will be how safe the procedures, who can obtain them and how many will experience serious health consequences and possibly die.

Religious freedom

Reproductive rights are fundamental to religious freedom. Judaism is a faith that cherishes life and honors family values, yet regards the fetus, morally and legally, as part of the mother’s body and not having the status of independent personhood until birth. Hence, abortion is permitted if a mother’s physical or mental health is endangered, and mandated if the mother’s life is threatened. According to Jewish teaching: “No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.”

Individuals and particular religious traditions are certainly entitled to their views on abortion, but laws that enshrine a particular religious perspective as the law of the state are a violation of a precious constitutional right, freedom of religion.

As clergy, we are often called to provide emotional and spiritual support to those who have to make the excruciating decision to have an abortion. Politics do not belong in those conversations. They are medical matters and issues of conscience.


Please consider the dangerous situations in which women and health care providers would be placed by further restrictions on abortion and reproductive health care. Will ending an ectopic pregnancy be regarded a crime? Will providing optimal medical care and advice to a pregnant person be criminalized? Will members of the clergy face prosecution? Will a rapist be entitled to more rights than the victim? Will aborting a dead fetus in the womb be against the law? Will every miscarriage be suspect? Will legislation lead to prohibiting forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization?

What can be done?

There are many positive life-affirming actions that can be taken. Let us pass laws that reduce poverty, increase accessibility of health care and affordable contraception, provide medically sound sex education, and expand child care. Let government intervene proactively in these matters and not interfere in adversarial ways with a woman’s autonomy and decisions about her body, health, family and faith values.

It is alarming and tragic that even as democracies around the world become more affirming of women’s rights, some of our leaders want to drag our nation in the opposite direction. Please, do not take us back to a time when abortion laws jeopardized women’s health, impacted negatively on family lives, and consisted of a discriminatory, classist two-tiered system of access to maternal health.•


The Sassos are senior Rabbi emerita and senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck.

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7 thoughts on “Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Dennis C. Sasso: Reproductive rights in Indiana: An open letter

  1. Quote: “Judaism is a faith that cherishes life and honors family values, yet regards the fetus, morally and legally, as part of the mother’s body and not having the status of independent personhood until birth.”

    Well, your religion was proven wrong when you crucified Jesus and He rose again on the third day, so I suppose your being wring on this issue should come as no surprise.

    The science of DNA has proven conclusively that the baby growing within a woman is not “part of her body” because the baby’s DNA is different from that of the mother. Every part of the mother’s body carries identical DNA; that’s why it is so useful in solving crimes. But the baby does not share that DNA, so it cannot be part of her body. Period.

    Sorry, but Jewish “scholars” are wrong again. I hope the state’s Republican leadership ignores your erroneous ideas.

  2. Bob P, you need to be straightened out on a few issues…Jesus was a Jew, it was the Romans who had him hung on a cross. It is the narrow-minded thinking that you have just stated that keeps us in such a turmoil. One day when the Messiah comes, we can ask if it’s the 1st or 2nd time to be here…until then, it’s called Faith. I respect yours and I expect you to do reciprocate.

    1. No, Barbara, it is thinking like yours that continues to disrespect life in the womb. Do you deny the science of DNA that proves the little baby is not “part of the mother’s body?” That has nothing to do with religion, you know….

  3. Why I support the Sasso’s–a different take: What can happen to children who are unwanted and unloved.
    As a physician who was a pediatrician before I became a neurologist, I come from a position of knowledge rather than opinion. As a pediatrician, I saw children so abused by their parents that their lives would be meaningless from their early childhood on. In one case, a brother and sister had been exposed to not only physical abuse by their parents but sexual abuse by their own parents as well. They had venereal diseases plus broken bones and bruises. In the hospital, they were listless; their lives had not even started and they were essentially over.
    How can I turn my back on this and not support the Sasso’s and anyone brave enough to speak out against turning over Roe versus Wade? Those who support it have not seen what I have. We are ignoring children’s rights to live a normal life when we take away the right of the mother to abort a child she cannot take care or will not take care.
    Shirley M. Mueller, M.D.

    1. No doubt you speak the truth as to what you have seen, Dr. Mueller, for we live in a fallen world. That’s why there are thousands of ready, willing, and able couples waiting to adopt newborns who are not “wanted” by their birth parents, or birth parents who feel they cannot afford to raise a child.

      Those parents who keep and then abuse those children should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, but that does not justify having killed the child in the womb.

      Pray tell, why is our culture so increasingly disrespectful of life after almost 50 years of government-sanctioned slaughter in the womb?

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