Florida Rabbi Among Clergy Filing Lawsuits Against State's Abortion Ban Says Law Violates Religious Freedom

Florida abortion protest
Demonstrators in Florida protesting the state's new, restrictive abortion law.Getty

Clergy who have filed lawsuits include rabbis, a United Church of Christ reverend and an Episcopal Church priest. The law "has a provision that is designed to scare people," Rabbi Barry Silver told Inside Edition Digital.

Clerics in Florida representing myriad religions have filed lawsuits against the state's new law that criminalizes most abortions after 15 weeks, saying the ban violates the constitutional right to religious freedom.

Leaders including rabbis, an Episcopal priest, a United Church of Christ reverend, a Unitarian Universalist Association minister and a Buddhist lama filed five separate lawsuits this week claiming the state’s ban deprives them of the ability to counsel congregants about abortion in relation to their faiths because the law prohibits them from participating in discussions about the medical procedure.

The new law, which took effect July 1, establishes “a pernicious elevation of the legal rights of fetuses while at the same time it devalues the quality of life and the health of the woman or girl who is pregnant," the suits said.

"It is in direct conflict with plaintiff’s clerical obligations and faith and imposes severe barriers and substantial burdens to their religious belief, speech and conduct," the lawsuits state.

The suits ask the court to rule that the state’s abortion law violates Florida and U.S. constitutional protections to freedom of speech and religion.

The Florida abortion law is one of most restrictive in the country. It was signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis April, before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

It bans the medical procedure after 15 weeks, except in cases when the mother could face serious injury or death, or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It makes no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Under the statute, it is a felony to perform or actively participate in an abortion that violates the law. The state's laws also makes it illegal to aid or abet a crime. 

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, in response to the lawsuits filed this week, said her office will continue to uphold the new law.

The law "has a provision that is designed to scare people," Rabbi Barry Silver told Inside Edition Digital on Thursday. "If you actively participate in an abortion, you can be thrown in jail," he said.

Silver filed a similar lawsuit in June on behalf of his Congregation L'Dor Va-Dor in Boynton Beach. Silver, who is also an attorney and a former legislator, contended in his suit that the new statute “prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion" and that it "violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”

Silver said Thursday that he will participate in another lawsuit to be filed next week, joining co-plaintiffs representing religions including Islam, Christianity and Buddhism.

Judaism does not ban abortion and does not consider a fetus a fully formed human, Silver said, so making the procedure a crime in Florida essentially means "practicing of Judaism becomes a crime," he said.

"If you're pro-life, then help protect people after they're born," the rabbi said. "A fetus is not a person. We shouldn't be bringing unwanted children into an already overpopulated world."

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