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Abortion and Judaism Religion

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Essay title: Abortion and Judaism Religion


Judaism does not forbid abortion, but it does not permit abortion on demand. Abortion is only permitted for serious reasons.

Judaism expects every case to be considered on its own merits and the decision to be taken after consultation with a rabbi competent to give advice on such matters.

Strict Judaism permits abortion only in cases where continuing the pregnancy would put the mother's life in serious danger.

In such circumstance (where allowing the pregnancy to continue would kill the mother) Judaism insists that the foetus must be aborted, since the mother's life is more important than that of the foetus.

Jewish law is more lenient concerning abortions in the first forty days of pregnancy as it considers the embryo to be of relatively low value during this time.

Abortions because of defects in the foetus or to protect the mental health of the mother are forbidden by some schools of Judaism and permitted by others under differing circumstances.

The argument for allowing such abortions is normally based on the pain that will be caused to the mother if the pregnancy is allowed to continue.

Sanctity of life and abortion

Judaism has a supreme concern for the sanctity of human life.

According to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5):

Whoever destroys one life is as if he destroyed a whole world, and whoever preserves a life is as if he preserved the whole world.

Apart from an overall regard for the sanctity of life, Judaism finds other reasons to ban abortion:

killing a foetus breaks God's command to populate the world

killing a foetus destroys something made in God's image

killing a foetus is wanton destruction of part of God's creation

killing a foetus destroys something that could become a being

killing a foetus is an unjustifiable act of wounding

it is wrong to injure oneself

Classical Jewish arguments about abortion are mainly concerned with the distinction between killing someone who is fully a person, and someone who is not so fully a person. There's more about these arguments in the next two sections.

Abortion is not explicitly referred to in the Hebrew Bible - so the abortion arguments have to draw analogies from the text.

In fact Biblical Jewish teaching doesn't deal at all with the circumstance of an abortion deliberately induced with the consent of the mother - that concept seems completely unknown.

That an Israelite parent might consider intentionally aborting a foetus seems almost beyond the moral horizon of the Torah's original audience. For in the moral environment where the law was first received, the memory of genocide and infanticide was still fresh [and] every birth was precious.Lenn E. Goodman, Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values, OUP 1998

To gain a clear understanding of when abortion is permitted (or even required) and when it is forbidden requires an appreciation of certain nuances of halacha (Jewish law) which govern the status of the fetus.1

The easiest way to conceptualize a fetus in halacha is to imagine it as a full-fledged human being -- but not quite.2 In most circumstances, the fetus is treated like any other "person." Generally, one may not deliberately harm a fetus. But while it would seem obvious that Judaism holds accountable one who purposefully causes a woman to miscarry, sanctions are even placed upon one who strikes a pregnant woman causing an unintentional miscarriage.3 That is not to say that all rabbinical authorities consider abortion to be murder. The fact that the Torah requires a monetary payment for causing a miscarriage is interpreted by some Rabbis to indicate that abortion is not a capital crime4 and by others as merely indicating that one is not executed for performing an abortion, even though it is a type of murder.5 There is even disagreement regarding whether the prohibition of abortion is Biblical or Rabbinic. Nevertheless, it is universally agreed that the fetus will become a full-fledged human being and there must be a very compelling reason to allow for abortion.

As a general rule, abortion in Judaism is permitted only if there is a direct threat to the life of the mother by carrying the fetus to term or through the act of childbirth. In such a circumstance, the baby is considered tantamount to a rodef, a pursuer6 after the mother

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