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Protecting the Life of the Mother

Rabbi Stern misrepresents Hadassah’s position in supporting choice. Hadassah, the Conservative Movement’s United Synagogue of America, Women’s League and a host of other Jewish organizations support choice because choice is the only appropriate civic option, allowing all peoples in our diverse nation to follow their religious convictions. Choice is good public policy, one that protects the separation of church and state, a cardinal value to American Jews.
It is true that Judaism is not a pro-choice religion in the sense that anything goes. Jewish precedent law does not permit abortion on demand (except perhaps during the first 40 days when the embryo is considered just water). Judaism is a pro-life religion, but our understanding of pro-life has to do with protecting the life of the mother. Indeed, the Sabbath can be violated to take a pregnant woman to the hospital, not for the sake of the fetus but for the sake of the mother’s well being.


Unfortunately, the anti-choice movement cares little for the life and well being of the mother, as evidenced by their efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade by chipping away at the protections that decision initially guaranteed.
The most recent chilling example of their success is the Partial Birth Abortion Act passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. This bill is chilling in that it restricts a doctor’s ability to provide appropriate medical care to his or her patient and endangers the life of real women. These women are mothers with a variety of medical conditions, such as severe preeclampsia, sometimes as a result of carrying a severely deformed fetus with cystic hygroma (a tumor on the back of the neck) or hydrocephaly (in which water compresses the brain so that there is not enough brain left to be compatible with life) so that the fetal head is so enlarged it cannot exit the woman’s body naturally. The fetus itself has no chance for viability. In such cases some abortion procedure is necessary to protect the woman’s life. However, now as a result of this law, the safest procedure is illegal so mothers must be subject to one of two more dangerous procedures, an intacted and/or a hysterotomy, either of which can puncture the mother’s uterine wall or make it impossible for her to carry another child to term. This is a particularly wrenching since many of these late term abortions are of much wanted pregnancies. This tragedy underscores the hyperbole of the Supreme Court majority who had the chutzpah to argue that upholding the ban on partial birth abortion without an exception for the health of the mother protected the mother from remorse over an abortion!
We do have a moral obligation to protect life: the mother’s life. Only when a fetus is born and reaches the air of the world does it become a nefesh, a living human being. Until then, Jewish law treats a fetus, regardless of how late in term, as a part of its mother’s body, which can be destroyed, if necessary, to protect her life and health.
The problem with the current abortion debate is that the lives of mothers are being sacrificed on the pulpits of the right wing. It is time we took back the bully pulpit.

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laura t mushkat

posted January 31, 2008 at 7:00 pm

The Jewish interputation of saving a female life can be easily looked at in many ways.
Irregardless of how it was originally meant they made it so you can interput it the way you want.
I have known ladies who used it for saving their emotional, physical life in many ways and excuses and that was and is just fine.
Fortunatly or unfortunatly for some of us we know know what a child about to be born can do and not do because we can see it before birth.
A unwanted child does the same thing as a wanted one and as time goes on the thinking female will have a harder and harder time with abortion on any level even if her religon is for or against abortion in her case.

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Leslie Sirag

posted February 1, 2008 at 6:13 am

Thank you Rabbi Grossman!
In addition to valuing the mother’s actual life, I believe that if a person’s physical or mental health (not just comfort) is likely to be severely negatively impacted by being pregnant and giving birth, that that pregnancy should be terminated. Further, I think the decison belongs to the woman and her doctor, and that anyone else who interferes is playing G-d.
This planet is already home to 3 to 4 times as many people as it can support at some reasonable level of comfort, health, and security. Part of that overpopulation is due to religious beliefs requiring women to give birth as often and as many times as possible, often sacrificing their health and their lives and leaving families mired in poverty and despair made worse by the loss of a mother.
Perhaps we should extend the concern for a mother’s health to our Mother Earth, and encourage population reduction to the point where most, if not all, children can be not only wanted, but cared for and given the opportunity for a satisfying and useful life.

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posted February 1, 2008 at 10:43 am

I strongly disagree with Abortion. God create us in his image and likeness and who are we to go against God. For when we kill or destroy the unborn, we are destroying a Holiness that God has embarked within us. Evil comes in many shapes and forms and tempations are always around us. The foundation of our beliefs is what will bring us to fruition. God in his splendor and his almighty power created all of us and the entire Universe, who are we? but specks of dust compared to his wisdom, power and presence. We should be so ever grateful that we are still standing. Therefore, in our conscious let all our works be before God to be nothing other than Holy.

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posted February 1, 2008 at 11:01 am

1/ Roe v Wade does not protect ‘choice’ in all trimesters.
2/ Conservative Judaism is the fastest shrinking of the major branches of Judaism. If it wants to defend reduction in populations it will continue this way.
3/ For those of you who worry about overpopulation (and tend to be liberal) go ahead and keep your numbers down. More room for the expanding number of social conservatives.

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Dan King

posted February 1, 2008 at 11:19 am

Someone’s Child,
If the mother chooses not to love the part of her to which she is the host of for what ever cause. As long as the mother can process oxygen.
The child needs the opportunity of LOVE. GOD’S EARTH HAS ENOUGH FOR ALL.
Thank You for your consideration!!!

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posted February 1, 2008 at 12:53 pm

For each “pro life” person, they should be required to adopt a child whose mother was prohibited from having an abortion.

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posted February 1, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Shalom Aleichem
I’m curious as to why this should even be a problem for Judaism. Is it not written, even in this week’s Parshat, “You shall worship HaShem, your God, and He shall bless your bread and your water, and I shall remove illness from your midst. There shall be no woman who loses her young or is infertile in your land; I shall fill the number of your days.” (Art Scroll Tanach translation)
Unless of course Torah is false and HaShem is a liar. CHvSH
I suppose “He shall bless your…water” can include an embryo less than 40 days?
To suggest “saving a life” includes “emotional well-being” seems to me a pretty base excuse, one invented by those who are selfish and not willing to take responsibility for their actions. As I write I think of one “devil’s advocate” BLA”H scenario by which the pregnancy may result in the inability to have further children, resulting in emotional hardship, though I suspect such would also be quite hazardous to the mother’s physical health as well.
I won’t oppose abortion to save the mother’s physical life and future reproductive ability, but considering the rarity of the scenario, even in relation to abortions in general, and that HaShem himself says this ought not be a problem, I advocate the Latin maxim which proposes “Laws ought be made for common situations, not uncommon ones” or something like that.
Behold! the heritage of HaShem is children; a reward is the fruit of the womb. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of youth. Praiseworthy is the man who fills his quiver with them; they shall not be shamed, when they speak with enemies at the gate.
How many does it take to fill a quiver? 5? 10? 30? 70? I don’t know, but I’m open. I, unfortunately, am yet to have any biologically so am a long ways from finding out; though there are children who adopt me as their “Daddy!!”

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posted February 2, 2008 at 6:24 am

This article is spot on. It’s terrifying how women’s rights of control over their own bodies are being eroded – I’d never want to become pregnant at all if I knew my life was going to be at risk if anything went wrong because of these kinds of right-wing, religiously motivated laws.

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Marian Neudel

posted February 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

“It is true that Judaism is not a pro-choice religion in the sense that anything goes. Jewish precedent law does not permit abortion on demand (except perhaps during the first 40 days when the embryo is considered just water).”
In fact, as I understand it, a woman may halakhically be REQUIRED to terminate a pregnancy if it endangers her life, even if she wants to take the risk and carry it to term.

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Homer Wiggins

posted February 4, 2008 at 12:54 am

Whatever our arguments are pro or con , the reality is that the abortion mills of America have killed 50,ooo,ooo children in the last 35 years. Their race is not important. They were not given the right that even our constitution promises first. The right to pursue life. Without that right nothing else matters. The thing that concerns me is that the blood of Abel called out to G-D . What does the blood of 50,000,00 million babies say to HIM. What fate awaits our society if the G-D of our Fathers is JUST.?

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posted February 4, 2008 at 11:25 am

A story for both sides of this debate.
60+ years ago, a woman was giving birth at home – the norm for that part of the country and for most people because hospital bills were expensive then too. There was trouble – the baby’s head was too large for the birth canal. A more common occurance than anyone admits these days and before modern medicine, giving birth was the number one cause of woman’s death. Ever wonder why life span was around age 35? That’s the average – if I woman could survive childbirth, she could live until her 50’s or 60’s. It was childbirth that brought the average lifespan of a woman down.
So this woman was in trouble with her first child. Her husband went for the doctor. The doctor tried to remove the child’s head using what tools he had available, no luck. Finally, he got the child out – but he broke the child’s neck in doing so. But he had to get the baby out – it’s mother was hemorraging and bleeding to death. He had a choice, save the baby or save the mother.
Now, should he have been prosecuted for this? If he had choosen to save the baby at the cost of the mothers life, would you have sued him for that? Of course, there is the fact that for those without means, if the mother dies, there is not much chance that the baby will make it either.
Would you condemn this doctor for making a hard decision? Can you at least acknowlege the fact that life can get messy and tragedy still happens?
Now for you pro-choicers.
The woman and her husband called the child Barbara. Every year, on memorial day, they went and laid flowers on her grave. Even 50 years later, they remembered the child they lost.
Who was this woman? My grandmother. Her next child, born in a hospital was my mother. On his deathbed, my grandfather told my Mom to remember Barbara, to put flowers on her grave. He’s been dead 10 years now, my grandmother 9. My mother still makes the two hour trip to the cemetary and places flowers on her elder sisters grave.
So each side I would like to say this – show some damn respect. Pro-lifers, show so consideration for the tragedy that many have had to go through in literally making that decision of WHICH life to save. Most of the time, it is not an IF a life needs saving. And Pro-choicers, don’t act like what was lost was some tumor or something disgusting. For many, it is a child – a child of hope, a child that was wanted, that was lost.
I’m not talking elective abortion here. I’m talking about those that are medically necessary. But both sides need to quit using these women and these families in some type of tug of war. That’s just disgusting.

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posted February 4, 2008 at 5:13 pm

I chose to have an abortion rather than bring another child into what I believed and feared would be an abusive/neglected/insane life. I lived that life and was living it at the time. I wanted that baby and was overjoyed when I learned I was pregnant. I wanted that child more than I wanted my own life. I honestly believed I did the best thing- although the decision just about ruined my life. The doctor who did the abortion- under general anesthesia – said that, although I was “out” I fought him and four people had to hold me down while he performed the operation. (I questioned him as to why I had bruises on my arms and legs.) I was suicidal afterwards and had a nervous break-down, including vomiting and breaking out in hives all over my body. I still grieve for that child although it was 27 years ago. Don’t assume that all Pro-Choice women choose selfishly or easily. I wish I had not done it, but hind-sight is 20-20. I hope other women choose wisely, whatever choice they make. It is still the woman’s body and the woman’s choice. Men’s choice is to treat women better and be more responsible for their children. Then more women would be able to make a pro-life choice.

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posted February 4, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Until there are no longer men who visciously abuse their wives, who rape, or treat women in other terrible ways, abortion must be available. Until women no longer die from the complications of continuing a dangerous pregnancy,abortion must remain available. Until ALL children can find a home, abortion must remain available.
We live in a dangerous world where sometimes, we must make unhappy choices. Most women do not use abortion as birth control and the funny thing is, many of those most opposed to abortion would also like to restrict access to contraception.
I have never had an abortion. I do not advocate promiscuous behavior. I do however, know what the world is like and I have seen situations in which abortion would be the only choice that would allow the woman to continue to live. does not the woman, who is already here as a thinking, feeling individual, take precidence over an embryo that is just a few weeks old?

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Judith Aaron

posted February 4, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Interesting read. I really appreciated your insight on partial-birth abortion.

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posted February 5, 2008 at 11:24 am

The traditional Jewish position on abortion, as explained in the article, is very humane and wise. I am from a Catholic family. When I was a child many years ago I was sittig in a room at my grandmother’s apartment with a number of my adult female relaives. I remember them discussing how one should always have a Jewish doctor when having a baby and that one should never go to a Catholic hospial to give birth. When I got older I understood why they said this

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posted February 6, 2008 at 4:48 pm

It appears that according to the writer, the Jewish rule on abortion seems to be the same as the Simpson’s Kang: Abortion for some, miniature American flags for others.

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posted February 7, 2008 at 11:33 pm

What about the more than 90% of abortions that are performed that have nothing to do with rape or the health of the mother? Are you saying that according to halakhah, it is permissible to destroy a living thing just because it is not outside of the mother’s womb and breathing on its own?
And what about 1 second before it starts breathing on its own? Is it OK to kill it then?
I have a hard time believing the religion I practice, the religion that celebrates life, would be so cavalier as to when it is permissible to kill a child (one second before it start breathing on its own), and when it is forbidden.
My question is, who decided this in Jewish law, and when?

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posted February 10, 2008 at 4:05 pm

Inability to getting decent housing in modern society,
marginal incomes that can’t support a family,
increased diviance,discrimination
in employment, denial of access to
public service, read the case of
Amber Brey[ Bostom,MA] the 1979- US law Roe V Wade.

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posted February 18, 2008 at 9:18 pm

If someone wants to do away with Roe V. Wade, then those seeking an abortion would either do it herself..coat hangers anyone? or go to a hack in a back alley. Those things were the choise before Roe V. Wade. The best solution is education about contraception, however that isn’t always effective. Condoms, RU486, morning after pill, should always be available. But if there is a need by the woman for an abortion…and no woman should or does take that decision lightly, then a legal, safe one should always be available.

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posted April 25, 2008 at 5:15 pm

The Prophet Jeremiah said “Now the Word of the LORD came to me saying ,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5
And King David said, “I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are Thy works, and my soul know it very well.” Psalms 139:14
If you read the Torah, Prophets and Psalms you can see how every life is important to GOD.

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