Judaism Point of View on Abortion
Judaism views on abortion are primarily drawn upon the ethical and legal teachings of the Talmud, Hebrew Bible and the case by case decisions of responsa as well as other forms of rabbinic literature. The Torrah does not contain any direct referenced to the termination of pregnancy only to miscarriage as a result of violent altercation.
The major biblical source that refers to abortion is found in Exodus 21:22-25and concerns with the man who inadvertently strikes an expectant woman causing her to lose her pregnancy. The attacker isn’t liable for homicide of the fetus but in the event the woman dies, he is liable for her death.
The Mishnah reference found in Oholot 7, 7 does not refer to abortion directly but to life threatening cases of childbirth and that if the head is yet to emerge or the birth is partial, then the fetus should be killed in order to save the woman’s live.
Genesis 9:6 says that whoever sheds the blood of another man by man shall his blood be shed because man is created in the image of God. Halacha (Jewish law) defines when a fetus becomes a person (nefesh). “…a baby…becomes a full-fledged human being when the head emerges from the womb. Before then, the fetus is considered a ‘partial life’.
In cases of ‘feet-first’ deliveries, it occurs when most of the fetal body is outside the mother’s body. Jewish practices and beliefs do not neatly match either pro-choice or pro-life points of view. General principles of modern day Judaism are that:
- The fetus is of great value because it is potentially a human life. It is only at birth that it gains a full human status.
- Abortions aren’t permitted on the basis of hereditary imperfections of the fetus
- Abortions are allowed for purposes of saving the mother’s health or life.
- With exception of Orthodox authorities, Judaism supports access of abortion for women
- Each abortion case should be individually decided by a rabbi who is well versed with the Jewish law.
Reform Judaism, Conservative and Reconstructionist are formally opposed to regulation of abortion by government. They are of the opinion that the decision on whether to abort or not should solely rest with the woman, her doctor, clergy person and husband. There are some Orthodox authorities that are in agreement with this stance.
They all recognize that the decision to have an abortion is not easy and should be taken after considerable thought. There are also instances when Jewish authorities have ruled in particular abortion cases depending on the extent of the danger posed or the circumstances.
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