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.