MARCHing for Equality

 “When they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 26:44-5

We read a lot in Jewish tradition about war. Historical accounts of the wars we fought, prescriptive guidelines on how to treat strangers and enemies, even details on how to deal with trees we encounter in enemy territories. In this week’s Torah portion, we hear about something else – we hear about how God will treat us when we are in foreign lands. After a series of fairly ominous verses about the horrors of what will happen to those who do not follow God’s commandments, our fears are assuaged with the promise: “when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them…but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors” (Leviticus 26:44-45). God pledges to watch out for us as we venture into foreign territories and enemy lands.

If only our own country was so supportive of all of its soldiers risking their lives overseas. More than 400,000 women serve in the Armed Forces and receive their health insurance from the Department of Defense’s Military Health System. But the health insurance available to servicewomen prevents women in the military from using their own private funds to pay for abortion services in military facilities. This problem is compounded by the fact that victims of these crimes might be hesitant to disclose their circumstances to superiors, either because they fear for their reputation with their supervisors who may not be sensitive to their concerns, or even because of reported incidents of sexual assault within the military hierarchy itself.

Luckily, we have a legislative solution to this in the works in Congress. The MARCH Act (Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health of 2013 – H.R. 1389/S.777) would close this loophole and bring regulations for military women in line with federal standards. As long as women paid out of pocket, they would be able to get an abortion in a military medical facility rather than traveling outside the base to potentially dangerous or medically insufficient providers.

Part of our responsibility as Jews is to look out for one another – our tradition teaches that “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” So too must we as Americans, and indeed as citizens of the world, look out for one another, and protect those who risk their lives to protect us. If we are indeed made in the image of God, then let us channel that divine spirit and take action on behalf of our servicewomen.