See below for a transcript and video of some important and spot-on-accurate words by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn – the first female and first Jewish Speaker of the House of Delegates in Virginia history:
“Ladies and gentlemen, members of this body. Several weeks ago we saw the majority party in this chamber deny Virginians the right to have their voices heard at the polls once again, this time on the critical issue of abortion access, when they passed by Delegate Herring’s HJ 519, which would have put the fundamental right of reproductive freedom on the path to the ballot. We’ve also seen a number of abortion bans introduced in this very chamber, and we know that Governor Younkin has made it very clear that he was ready and willing to gleefully sign any bill limiting abortion access in the Commonwealth.
We have heard heart-wrenching stories about mothers with…pregnancy complications in Texas, in Ohio, in Kentucky and other states that were forced to travel out of state to seek medical professionals, many that could not afford to do so. But Mr. Speaker, members of this body, we all have one more opportunity to hear Senator McClellan’s SJ255. Members have the opportunity to decide whether to let Virginians’ opinions be heard or not. And I really hope, Mr. Speaker, that we can vote for this here on the floor without having to do a rules change.
And Mr. Speaker, members of the body, before we take final action, I want to make one important point and I hope everybody will listen. Abortion bans like the ones proposed by members of this chamber are not just dangerous, they are also an infringement upon the religious liberty of thousands of Virginians. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had many productive conversations with many of you, both sides of the aisle, about my faith, about Judaism. As a person of faith, I believe in compassion, I believe in justice, I believe in dignity for all. I also understand that those who support restricting access to abortion so often cite religious beliefs as their motivation.
But Mr. Speaker, abortion bans are in direct conflict with Jewish law. Judaism values life and affirms that protecting existing life is paramount. In fact, even under the strictest, most traditional interpretation, Jewish law prioritizes the life and health and well-being of the mother. In the Virginia Senate, just weeks ago, we saw the Republican patron of Governor Youngkin’s abortion ban refuse to add that exception to the bill. We have seen courts in Florida, in Kentucky, in Indiana and Ohio take up religious liberty suits against abortion bans from rabbis and Jewish organizations since the Dobbs decision. I personally heard from so many rabbis, so many Jewish leaders, who are deeply concerned that their religious liberty could soon be in jeopardy here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
But it’s not just the Jewish community who is concerned. After countless public discussions with rabbis and private discussions with rabbis, people of Jewish faith, I consulted my friend, our colleague, Delegate and Pastor Dolores McQuinn, we brought together interfaith clergy from multiple regions of the Commonwealth for public conversations throughout the year, some in person, some on zoom, some panels, some roundtables. As a result, Mr. Speaker, members of this body, of these discussions the Virginia Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Liberty was formed to provide a platform for people of faith to discuss their concerns about the proposed abortion bans and counter the misconception that people of faith are a monolith. What we heard over and over again from these conversations and from this interfaith group was ‘abortion bans are a violation of our religious freedom’. Delegate McQuinn and I also heard ‘your religion is not more important than mine’.
Mr. Speaker, members of this body, the First Amendment to the U.S constitution guarantees that no one religion should be enshrined in law or dictate public policy on any any issue, including abortion. Mr. Speaker, it was in this very body 237 years ago in January of 1786 that the Virginia statute for religious freedoms was passed, the precursor to our first amendment. In fact, those words are etched on our chamber’s walls right over there in that corner. Mr. Speaker, when members debate SJ 255 this afternoon, I hope that they will take into consideration the religious liberty of all Virginians – and please vote to guarantee the ability of each Virginian to weigh in on their right for reproductive liberty.
When working to respect the faith of others, one can’t just pick and choose those aspects of the faith that they want to respect while overlooking others. Reproductive freedoms, Mr. Speaker, are religious freedoms – one cannot exist without the others. Religious liberty and the separation of religion and state must be protected and preserved in order to maintain our democratic society. Thank you Mr. Speaker.”