Seeking ‘Fixes’ On Court’s Women’s Rights Rulings
07/01/14
Staff Writer
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NCJW’s Jody Rabhan
NCJW’s Jody Rabhan

Jody Rabhan became director this week of the Washington operations of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), succeeding Sammie Moshenberg, who retired after 33 years with the organization. Rabhan began her career two decades ago as a graduate fellow at the Baltimore Institute for Jewish Communal Service. She continued as a lobbyist for six years before pausing to start a family. She then worked as a private consultant for Jewish nonprofits, specializing in advocacy and development projects. Two years ago she returned as Moshenberg’s deputy. She and her husband have two sons and live in Bethesda, Md.

Q: The NCJW says this week’s Hobby Lobby decision of the U.S. Supreme Court — which exempts family-owned corporations from paying their employees’ insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act if it violates the owners’ religious beliefs — actually relegates women to second-class status. Why is that?

A: What the Supreme Court did in our view is hold that an employer’s religious beliefs trump those of his workers, particularly women. Our concern now is that this decision opens the door to eroding other protections for workers that are currently in place. Who is to say that an employer’s religious beliefs won’t come into play when we are talking about other worker protections?

The decision also opens the door to other types of corporations bringing similar suits. 

Last Thursday the Supreme Court issued another decision, McCullen v. Coakley, that ordered the removal of protective buffer zones around abortion clinics. The NCJW called the decision “a defeat for women’s health and safety.” Why?

It absolutely is, because it puts women at risk. The reason for the buffer zones is because of the horrible shootings at two abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass., [in 1994] that killed two women abortion clinic workers and wounded five others. And there have been other abortion clinic murders. It is entirely reasonable to have buffer zones.

But isn’t the court correct when it argued that such zones restrict the free speech of abortion opponents?

No, buffer zones do not restrict freedom of speech, and the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech has never been absolute. The NCJW steadfastly stands behind freedom of speech, but given clinic murders and other threats to those entering clinics and accessing their services, we think buffer zones are justified.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals held that they are justified as long as there is some other alternative means for abortion opponents to communicate their views to the women [seeking abortion clinic services].  … Without buffer zones, women are put at physical risk — those who access the clinics’ services and those who work there.

What is your next step in these battles?

We are looking at potential legislative fixes where the Hobby Lobby case is concerned, and we are working with the administration on it. There has been some talk about an executive fix, but our concern is that that would be temporary. We are looking for something more permanent — a congressional fix.

How do you assess your chances?

Many, many years ago when we worked on passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [passed by Congress in 1993] there was near unanimous support, if not unanimous. But this is a different Congress, and Congress in general is sort of hostile to the issue of contraceptive access and the full range of family planning services for women. So we have our work cut out for us.

What are some of your organization’s other key issues?

Gender equality in Israel; working to ensure that the Senate fills judicial vacancies with fair and impartial judges who are committed to constitutional rights, including reproductive rights; and anti-sex trafficking legislation focused on women and children in the U.S. Sex trafficking is a massive issue with much to be done. It is an area that is really picking up speed; there is a lot of will on both sides of the aisle to do good work on this and we thrilled we are in the loop.

stewart@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

07/10/2014 - 02:48

Comments

The Torah says -non Jewish people are allowed contraception for women for any reason, but for Jews only, a woman who needs contraception for health issues to save her life, is allowed by Jewish law to have contraception.

Grade school children know that the Pilgrims risked their lives sailing across a poorly explored, dangerous ocean in search of religious freedom. The Pilgrims would not have bothered to leave their homeland if they thought they would be taxed down the road for not acquiring health care insurance. There is no more important right conceived of by our forefathers, and granted by our constitution than religious freedom. Healthcare provisions in the ACA do not trump religious freedom - not even close. At the risk of violating the PC code of conduct, let me say this. The affordable care act is not sacrosanct. If the politicians had been honest and called the 'mandatory penalty' provision of the ACA bill a tax (which it is), it never would have passed Congress in the first place. The effort by the Democrats to elevate this one provision of the ACA to an equal or higher level than the religious freedom our country offers is absurd. Saying that this case hurts women is Democratic Party propaganda. Why should a practicing Catholic (or anyone else) be compelled to pay insurance premiums for abortions when it violates their religious beliefs?

Actually, the pilgrims would have been very proud of this ruling. Unfortunately, that is not a good thing. The pilgrims did not come to America to seek religious freedom, they came to establish their own, exclusive community, one that did not tolerate deviations from their strict beliefs. If you would like to go back to a time when those in power could do whatever they wished in the name of religion, including banishing/hanging those who disagreed, then by all means, be my guest. But that's not the America many of us want to live in!

Anna, your passion in favor of a big government imposed healthcare insurance plan is revealing. You use words like 'exclusive', 'intolerance', 'strict beliefs', and 'banishing/hanging' to describe the Supreme Court's opinion in favor of the Hobby Lobby lawsuit. I am pretty sure the Supremes would demur from your description of the outcome of their decision, as do I. The fact is: leftist, big government 'legal systems' have been responsible for more human misery than any other political force in history. Clearly Obama and the Democratic Party controlled Senate are the worrisome Big Government powers that Americans have to fear - not Hobby Lobby. Freedom of religion is not out of date - even if the Pilgrims are.

Ms. Rabhan says, 'What the Supreme Court did in our view is hold that an employer’s religious beliefs trump those of his workers, particularly women. Our concern now is that this decision opens the door to eroding other protections for workers that are currently in place.'
I am not a lawyer, but I do have common sense. The supreme court DID NOT say employer's religious beliefs trump those of his workers. The court said religious employers do not HAVE TO PAY for their worker's abortions when abortions violated their religion. Big difference. Female employees are not treated unfairly under the law, but they will have to pay for their abortions out of their own pocket. Some people call that individual responsibility. What a novel concept. Bubbling just under the surface of this debate is the issue of state control and public funding.
Do we want the state to grow ever larger and controlling in our lives or do we want smaller government and more personal responsibility? Social/communism has a long history. It has never worked - anywhere. One of its basic problems: sooner or later, the government runs out of other people's money.

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