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2 Jewish legislators take lead on abortion rights in California

Source: Written by Emma Goss with J.

With the Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving each state to determine its own laws on abortion access, California legislators are speeding up efforts to safeguard patients and providers impacted by anti-abortion laws in other states.

On Thursday, the 3-year-old Select Committee on Reproductive Health, founded and chaired by Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of the East Bay, added an urgency clause to Assembly Bill 1666, a bill Bauer-Kahan introduced that seeks to protect patients and providers in California from civil actions and financial retaliation for having or providing an abortion.

“We don’t think we can wait until January for [AB 1666] to become law,” said Bauer-Kahan, who is Jewish and lives in Orinda. Now amended, the bill will head to the floor for a vote and, if passed, will go into effect immediately.

She formed the committee she chairs after voters in District 16, which spans from Moraga to Livermore, elected her to the state Assembly in 2018. The committee is the first of its kind in the country to focus exclusively on the question of access to reproductive health care, said Bauer-Kahan.

She’s also involved in work on AB 2626, introduced by Southern California Assembly member Lisa Calderon, which would prohibit the removal or suspension of a medical license for a California provider who is punished in another state for performing an abortion in accordance with California law.

“In the wake of Roe being overturned, abortion providers will be violating the laws in other states, and we want to make clear that they cannot lose their medical licenses here in California for doing that work,” Bauer-Kahan told J. “A lot of what we’re doing is looking at our own laws and ensuring that we’re shoring them up, because we’ve relied on this constitutional right for so long.”

Laura Friedman, an Assembly member representing Burbank, Glendale and nearby areas, said she presented AB 2626  in the Assembly health committee last month.

“We had right-to-lifers there on the stand saying that [abortion providers] were baby murderers and should go to jail,” said Friedman, who sits on the 40-member California Legislative Women’s Caucus, as does Bauer-Kahan. “It is all hands on deck, and I’ll be there for all the legislation, all of the rallies, all of the work that we can do.”

Both Bauer-Kahan and Friedman see their work in protecting abortion access as part of their Jewish identities.

Bauer-Kahan, whose brother, Ryan Bauer, is rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and who has a sister who’s a rabbi, too, said denying women access to abortions is a violation of a “a clear dictate of our faith.”

“As Jews,” she said, “we need to remember where our faith stands, which is very much protecting access to health care.”

Friedman said that defending abortion access for people within California as well as outside the state is a form of tikkun olam (repairing or healing the world).

“Caring what happens in other states should be important to us as Jews because we do want to heal the whole world, not just our own state or our neighborhood,” Friedman said.

While she and Bauer-Kahan continue to forge ahead with new legislation, Friedman believes there’s a role individuals, particularly Jews, can have in influencing people of other faiths who are outspoken in the anti-abortion movement.

“I would love to see synagogues take this on,” she said, “because I do think that showing that there are people who are religious who are pro-choice is not a narrative that we hear from the media.”