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Idaho abortion ban opponents: Lawmakers are still disrespecting many faiths.

The film Under G_D explores the tension between multiple faiths and the growing number of abortion bans.
Ronda Kimbrow
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123rf Ronda Kimbrow
The film Under G_D explores the tension between multiple faiths and the growing number of abortion bans.

“In Idaho… the anti-abortion movement has chosen to give authority to a very small, very narrow kind of conservative Christianity,”

While Idaho's near total abortion ban – which continues to push OBGYNs out-of-state due to fear of prosecution – remains in effect, polling reveals a growing number of Idahoans see the restrictions as too draconian. Most polls find Idahoans in a growing middle ground in a debate which had, until recently, found citizens choosing a hard yes, or hard no.

“I try not to judge those whose religious convictions are different than mine,” said Rev. Sara LaWall, faith leader of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. “And I want to have the freedom to believe those and practice those. Sometimes, those practices and beliefs have to be kept squarely in the religious sphere, and not in the governmental sphere. And that is the conversation I am interested in having.”

LaWall has joined a growing chorus of faith leaders from across Idaho who say, while some Idaho legislators have used their religious faith in informing their opposition to abortion, a good many other faiths have been left by the wayside.

“The challenges that the government is imposing is a narrow version of Christianity as a kind of state religion on this question,” said Rabbi Dan Fink, faith leader at Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel “And Idaho’s law, as current established on abortion, prevents Jews from freely exercising what our tradition calls us to do.”

Fink and LaWall joined Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the conversation they hope to have following a screening of the film, “Under G_D,” Thursday, June 20 at The Flicks in Boise.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. This morning we're going to talk about a movie. And because we single it out, we think it is deserving of your attention. It will be screened one night only later this week, Thursday the 20th at The Flicks, and the film is titled Under G_D. Indeed, the word is "God," but the letter "O" is missing from the title. But something else is missing in the debate over abortion restrictions in Idaho and other states. We'll get to that missing piece in a moment, but first, let's bring in our guests. Here is Reverend Sara LaWall from the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Good morning, Reverend Sara.

REV. SARA LAWALL: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: And here comes Rabbi Dan Fink from Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel. Good morning, Rabbi Dan.

RABBI DAN FINK: Good morning, George. Glad to be here.

PRENTICE: I must say, I was lucky enough to see this film when it emerged from film festivals and picked up a boatload of jury awards. The film, by the way, is about a half hour. It's a superb short documentary; so that will allow plenty of conversation following the film in Thursday's event and what conversation there should be. So, here's where we are: we know that most abortions are banned in Idaho and a number of other states. But upon seeing this film, you will learn a lot more about RFRA. That's R-F-R-A, an acronym for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allows some lawmakers to work around constitutional law to model laws around "believer's of faith." But what faith? Reverend Sara, jump in here. This is a big disparity because many of these restrictions have foundations of religious conviction. But to be sure, it's not all religions.

LAWALL: That's correct. And that is really what drew me to this film. But also I've been following this lawsuit. It's really disheartening when our lawmakers use faith as a foundation for the legislation that they are passing, without any recognition that there is such a multitude of faith traditions and beliefs, particularly around this question. And it's really about very, very narrow interpretation - theological interpretation and set of religious beliefs - and doctrine that doesn't apply to all faiths. And so I'm really invested in wanting to have a a conversation about how we govern. What does religious freedom really mean? What does the separation of church and state really mean? Because it is really ostracizing, leaving out and frankly, oppressing a number of faith traditions and faith communities with regard to this particular legislation IN abortion rights and access, but others as well.

PRENTICE: Rabbi Dan Fink, in this film we hear from a contemporary of yours. He is Rabbi Barry Silver from Florida. And, well, let me just play a clip here.

RABBI BARRY SILVER: "It's a Jewish value to stand up against authority. Jews have never hesitated to stand on the fringe of society when it's necessary to fight against oppression."

PRENTICE: Rabbi Dan, can you add to that? Can you bring this home to us here in Idaho?

FINK: Yes. Rabbi Silver participates in this suit, and appears in the film because he recognizes, as Reverend LaWall noted, that faiths are in very different places on the question of choice. in Idaho and in other places, the anti-abortion movement has chosen to give authority to a very small, a very narrow kind of conservative Christianity, and essentially made it a kind of state religion. And Jewish tradition has always stood against this. In Jewish tradition, an abortion is not only allowed' but actually when a woman's life and health are endangered,  Jewish law requires it. So essentially the point is that, anti-abortion restrictions prevent pious Jewish people from living in accordance with our tradition on this matter.

PRENTICE: Talk a little bit more about that tradition, because I've learned a little bit about Jewish law using old rules or old principles, but they apply to contemporary circumstances. In other words, they're grounded in reality.

FINK: That's right. So, George, Jews famously like to disagree amongst ourselves. There's an old saying that "for every two Jews there are at least three opinions." And so, if you ask Jews about abortion and when is abortion justified and who chooses, you'll get different answers from different parts of the Jewish world. With the Orthodox, the more traditional...more conservative leaning, but one of the very few things. And there really are not so many Jews across the board. From very traditional, to very progressive agree on, is that human life begins at birth. Jews all agree that a fetus is not a human being. A fetus is a potential human being. And that until crowning, the life of the mother, carrying that fetus takes priority over the life of the fetus. It's really one of few things that Jews agree upon... and that Idaho law stands in direct opposition to.

PRENTICE: Rev. Sara, help me out with this. We found that there are a growing number of people who are conflicted about this. They're somewhere in this rather large middle, if you will, of this debate. And I have to assume that's where you want to open up this conversation.

LAWALL: I think that's right. I think it's to remind people of the kind of foundational beliefs of this country, in exercising one's own religious freedom separate from the state. And part of what that says to me is that there is deep power in one's religious convictions and beliefs, and I hold that as very sacred. And so I try not to judge those whose religious convictions are different than mine, and I want them to have the freedom to believe those and practice. But I want the same exact freedom for myself and other communities who practice and believe differently, which means that sometimes those practices and beliefs have to be kept squarely in the religious sphere, and not in the public or governmental sphere. And that's the conversation I'm interested in having.

PRENTICE: And I'd like you both to weigh in on this. Rabbi Dan, I'll ask you first: the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says the government cannot establish religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof. In other words, Jews, Muslims, even many Christians are being left out of the conversation in these new laws that are restricting.

FINK: The challenges that the government is imposing as a narrow version of Christianity as a kind of state religion on this question. And Idaho's law, as currently established on abortion, prevents Jews from freely exercising what our tradition calls us to do.

LAWALL: There are many Christians coming out of liberal Christianity and the Protestant Reformation and Unitarian Universalists who do believe in choice, who really also believe that, when it comes to abortion, it's very particular, very private, very spiritual decision that should be made by the patient in consultation with their doctor. And if that patient so chooses, in consultation, in consultation with their spiritual leader or others who are important in their life. And the government should really be out of that decision-making and out of that space.

PRENTICE: Reverend Sara LaWall is the faith leader from the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. And of course, Rabbi Dan Fink is from Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel. And the event is this Thursday the 20th. By the way, the event is free, but you want to reserve a ticket. Thank you to you both. Great good luck for Thursday, and thanks for giving me some time this morning.

LAWALL: Thank you George,

FINK: Thank you.

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