Jews and the Pro-Life movement—must we eat herring?

What a pity that Orthodox Jews have not been active in the Right to Life movement, and have left Christians to speak for us. Yes, we sympathize with them and vote for conservative candidates, and once in a while the Agudah may file an amicus brief. But we have been mainly silent, and as a result, very few people—very few Jews, even—know what the Jewish position actually IS.

In today’s NY Times we have been lumped together with Christians for the umpteenth time, as if there really were one monolithic “Judeo-Christian” view of when life begins. The NY Times thinks that Orthodox Jews share the Catholic view—that life begins at the moment an egg is fertilized by a sperm. The Times says, “In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is wrong to destroy embryos in the course of research.” And how should they know that there is any difference between the Christian and Jewish views, if we are silent?

If we had been more active and more vocal, we might have had more influence within the pro-life movement, and our actual views might have been better known to the media. In Torah tradition, the soul enters the body forty days after conception. Almost all poskim permit IVF for the sake of treating infertility (not with donor sperm, though)—and when too many embryos are created to have a reasonable chance of safe birth, almost all permit destroying the “extras” in the Petri dish. By “embryos” we mean tiny eight-celled balls in a laboratory dish, aka blastocysts, smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence.

If an IVF cycle produced five or six such balls, the Catholic Church would require that ALL of them be implanted in the woman’s uterus, even though the chance of six babies surviving would be almost nil (and the mother’s health would also be severely compromised). The Catholics (and some Protestants) would say that if some of those minute balls were discarded in the lab, then the doctor was guilty of murder, just the same as if he had killed a 20-year-old man. Halacha, in contrast, permits the doctor to choose the two or three best embryos and discard the rest. Remember, “embryo” means a ball the size of this dot.

Among the practical applications where this makes a difference, besides infertility, are these two: the morning-after pill, and the controversial issue of embryonic stem-cell research.

According to the Church, if a woman is raped and shows up at a hospital emergency room, and if a doctor in the ER gives her a morning-after pill—which prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg—both the doctor and the woman are guilty of murder. Amazingly, this extreme view has had great influence in American law, such that it is actually very difficult in many states for a woman to obtain these morning-after pills for use as a contraceptive. Ironically, the result is that there are many pregnancies which, not having been prevented right at the beginning, end up going to the third or fourth month—and THEN the woman has an abortion, when her fetus definitely does have a soul and when she really is committing a grave sin according to both Jewish law and Noahide law! (“Noahide law” is what the Torah requires of non-Jews.)

BTW the pro-choice groups have been complicit in letting these restrictive laws stand. One of the reasons the pro-abortion lobby has let the pro-life movement mostly have its way vis-à-vis the morning-after pill is that Planned Parenthood—ostensibly a “non-profit” organization—actually rakes in millions of dollars each year through its abortion mills.

In the case of stem-cell research, halacha would probably permit research in the first couple of weeks after fertilization, when the “embryo” is, as I said, a ball of cells. Certainly in IVF clinics, a great deal of research goes on, to determine which methods of fertilization have the best rates of success. This research has enormously benefited thousands of Orthodox couples struggling with infertility (including Yours Truly).

As it so happens, there are now other methods of producing stem cells for medical research, so the question of embryonic stem cells may soon be moot. But if it should turn out that embryonic stem cells have the greatest potential for therapeutic use, it would not be against the halacha to use them. Again, please be clear: we are not talking about creating a whole fetus, waiting until the third or fourth month, and then cutting the baby up in order to use its liver or kidneys. We are talking about taking a ball of undifferentiated cells in a laboratory and coaxing those cells to grow liver cells or kidney cells WITHOUT becoming a whole baby. We don’t believe that that ball of cells has a soul in it yet.

Many people think that Jews and Christians are on the same page on these issues, but it isn’t so, and it’s our own fault, because we have been such passive and silent allies to the pro-life movement, rarely telling anyone what Judaism actually teaches about when life begins or when the soul enters a fetus.

In truth we have many good reasons to ally ourselves with religious believers in the pro-life movement, because the “pro-choice” movement is so horrendously murderous and immoral. The entire point of the pro-choice movement is to guarantee “sex with no consequences”—in fact, you could put that on a bumper sticker, it sums up the whole pro-choice agenda. Despite our disagreements with conservative Christians about stem-cell research, IVF and the morning-after pill—despite those issues, we appreciate that at least Christians recognize the sanctity of life.

They might be wrong about the sanctity of an eight-celled blastocyst but they are fundamentally right about the larger issue that is tearing American society apart—the wholesale slaughter of millions and millions of babies each year, some well past the point of viability.

We Jews need to speak up about this, about where we agree and where we disagree.

But it isn’t enough for us to pipe up and say, “Well, no, Jewish theology is not the same as Christian theology, we don’t agree with them about this or that detail.” We have to be an active PART of the pro-life movement, we have to be more vocal and involved with it. We can’t just be another bunch of kibitzers from the sidelines, heckling the good Christians and telling them they’re wrong about this, that and the other. We also have to be seen as allies and supporters of the pro-life movement, so that our voices can be heard WITHIN that movement. We have to honor the pro-life movement and thank the foot soldiers who have fought so bravely and so untiringly, in the face of vilification and bile, to keep alive in America the very notion of the sanctity of life.

Oh, while I’m about it, I have to swat away another pesky fly—the absurd notion that if Roe v Wade were overturned, or if Christians had their way, then Jewish women wouldn’t be able to obtain abortions when halachically required to save the woman’s life.

This red herring has been waved by the Reform movement (and a few misguided Orthodox Jews) for so many years that the herring is quite stinky and rancid by now. But it remains a herring.

Without Roe v Wade, the issue of abortion would be sent back to the fifty states, each of which would then vote in its own policies, some a bit more permissive, others a bit more restrictive. The issue never should have been taken away from the people in the first place. All fifty state legislatures, answerable to the will of the people, would permit abortion under certain circumstances, emphatically INCLUDING to save the mother’s life. How do I know? Because over 90% of the American people believe that abortion is justified to save the mother—including at least 75% of pro-life Christians!

So breathe easy, and throw away that herring.

And let the foot soldiers of the pro-life movement have our gratitude—and our considered input.

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28 comments to Jews and the Pro-Life movement—must we eat herring?

  • IlanaF

    We do not only disagree with the Christians in the above-mentioned areas. Allying ourselves with the pro-life movement would also prevent abortion in time of MENTAL health risk which the pro-lifers are against.

  • Chaim

    “tiny eight-celled balls in a laboratory dish, aka blastocysts, smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence.”

    A minor technical point: 8 celled embryos are not blastocysts. Blastocysts have about 100 cells, and have already differentiated into an outer shell, which will develop into the placenta, and an inner cell mass, which will develop into the fetus. The inner cell mass is the part of the blastocyst used in stem cell research.

  • Joseph Faith

    Im not an expert in American politics, but doesn’t this abortion fight stem from a larger debate about religion? If you don’t believe in G-d, then I can see a very good reason for allowing abortion, and it not just ‘sex-without-consequences’ as you have termed it. Even the halachic tradition has a fair amount of scope for leniency, with the tzitz eliezer famously declaring that abortion has nothing to do with murder (although reb moshe disagreed), and is an issur which can be violated in cases of great need. I’m not sure it’s wise to embroil ourselves in a war which has nothing to do with us, NYT articles notwithstanding. Let non-Jews get on with what they get on with, and we will get on with our own business. I think we have to remember we’re still in golus and it’s not for us to be taking part in political debates to add our ‘religious’ perspective, especially when our perspective is very nuanced and is subject to a big machlokes haposkim. I don’t think you can wage a debate with “Well in tzitz eliezer it says one way, but reb moshe says like this, and the shvus yaakov say like this etc..” It’s not a clear cut thing, and the debate has virtually nothing to do with sanctity of life, it’s more about turf wars between the Christian Right and the rest.

  • HILLEL

    You’re right, “mainstream” Orthodox Jewry has been very low-key on this issue, while Reform and Conservative Judaism have been extremely vocal in favor of abortion. As a result, most Americans now think that Judaism enthusiastically endorses abortion on demand. The few Jewish “mavericks” who have spoken out vigorously–people like Rabbi Daniel lapin and Rabbi yehuda Levin–have been shunned by the mainstream Orthodox organizations and have been forced to ally themselves with the Christian Pro-Life groups.

  • Calev

    Yes, but…
    Indeed, Torah Judaism has much to contribute to the abortion debate and would no doubt benefit from the widespread respect enjoyed by Jewish medical ethics.
    However, does conveying the traditional Jewish perspective really necessitate becoming an “active PART of the pro-life movement”? Why do we need to rub shoulders with people who, as you yourself write, have some extreme views on the subject?
    Let us be Ivrim, on our side of the river, and calmy and rationally say what our views are so that they can be taken on their merits without being sullied by the screaming – and sometimes violent – extremism associated with pro-lifers.
    Such is the danger of politics, that common goals make strange bedfellows – for example Marxists marching with Islamists against Israel. Surely we should rise above such political opportunism.

  • Seth Gordon

    BTW the pro-choice groups have been complicit in letting these restrictive laws stand. One of the reasons the pro-abortion lobby has let the pro-life movement mostly have its way vis-à-vis the morning-after pill is that Planned Parenthood—ostensibly a “non-profit” organization—actually rakes in millions of dollars each year through its abortion mills.

    I Googled “Planned Parenthood morning-after pill” and the fourth link was to an ABC News story about Planned Parenthood giving away the pill for a day, so that more people would be aware of the option to use it. The article goes on to quote Planned Parenthood’s vice president for medical affairs as saying:

    Emergency contraception is a safe, effective backup birth control option that every woman should have in her medicine cabinet and know how to use… Planned Parenthood is committed to educating women and couples about emergency contraception and all their birth control options.

  • Micha

    I do not know if it’s appropriate for us to back the Right to Life movement.

    Most do not consider abortion of a fetus before the head emerges to be a form of murder. Prohibited, but not because the fetus has the halakhos of a living human being.

    However, all consider threat to the mother’s life or limb to be piquach nefesh. Which would outweigh numerous other violations.

    No US law could perfectly capture the halachic guidelines for when the risk to the mother is unacceptably large. (CYLOR would violate church-and-state. ) Which means that any law — even one that excepts danger to the mother’s life — would require a risk to life that is prohibited to take in gray area cases where we and the US had different measures of sufficient risk. Chamira sakanta mei’issura — danger is more strict than prohibition.

    Even more prohibited than the thousands of abortions we would want to legislate away.

    Perhaps our only possible course is to teach Benei Noach to want to follow the 7 mitzvos rather than forcing people by law to do so.

    -micha

  • Noam

    Having been around the block with Rav Avi Shafran on this issue, I have very little desire for another round. However, being accused not only of being a misguided Orthodox Jew but also a herring eater, it seems I have no choice.

    A few points: state legislatures can and do pass legislation that make halachically valid abortions illegal. It has been done. In our political system, just because a majority of people favor a particular path does not mean that it will be implemented. This arguement sounds nice and logical, but it really has no basis in fact. The fact is that legislatures have passed laws forbidding abortions in cases where halacha would allow it.

    I would be very interested in seeing any objective data supporting the assertion that the pro-choice lobby has been lax in supporting the morning after pill. Accusing them of being less than enthusiastic because of monetary benefits from abortions is an extremely serious charge, and should be backed by serious data. The reality is that the only time in history that the FDA did not follow the reccomendation of its scientific panel was in regard to the morning after pill. The panel reccomended that it be approved, and it was a POLITICAL decision by the Bush administration not to allow it, the only time in history that the reccomendation of the scientific panel was not followed. I am not sure how the pro-choice lobby was supposed to influence that decision, seeing as the Bush administration has not been very responsive to lobbying of any sort on most ideological issues.

    Rebbitzin Katz is absolutely correct that the Jewish position should be differentiated from the Christian position. But which Jewish position? Are we going to follow the Tzietz Eliezer and say that abortion is permitted in the first three months if a child is diagnosed with a horrible disease such as Tay-Sachs? Are we going to promote the view of rav Moshe Feinstein that abortion in that situation is prohibited? How is maternal psychological distress going to be codified into American law, when we Jews can’t decide on what it should be? Is Mrs. Katz asking that an American court of law take the place of a posek?

    This is a fundamental dispute between those who advocate less legal restrictions, and thus preserve the full range of religious expression(both for the Orthodox, and it will neccessarily include some that Mrs. Katz does not agree with), and those who advocate tight restrictions, knowing that these will not be based on halacha, but Christian concepts, with a by product that some otherwise halachically acceptable alternatives will be illegal.
    I am not misguided nor naiive. Nor am I anti-halachic. However, codifying Christian values into American law does not benefit Orthodox Jews. In addition, Christian values do not value the mother over the fetus, and deployment of Christian concepts endanger the life and safety of the mother, as has been demonstrated in the bill recently upheld by the Supreme Court, which does not contain any exceptions for the health of the mother.

  • Avi

    If I’m not mistaken,abortion is one of the few issues where Noachide standards for non-Jews are stricter than Torah standards for Jews. This is a conundrum: do we we try to make our own standards the law? If so, we will be causing non-Jews to violate the Noachide standards. Do we try to make Noachide standards the law? Then we will be disallowing Jews to obtain abortions in situations where it is appropriate. I think this is why the Orthodox attitude has been “Sheiv V’al Taaseh”, better to not champion either one.

  • Seth Gordon

    A few years ago, Senator Hillary Clinton pointed out that people with easy access to contraceptives are less likely to get abortions, and suggested that pro-life and pro-choice moderates could unite around campaigns to make contraception more widely available. Mainstream pro-life organizations, many of whose leaders oppose contraception as well as abortion, did not warm to the idea.

    So I really don’t understand how participation by Orthodox Jews, a minority of a minority of the US population, would make pro-life organizations back down from their principle that human life begins at the moment where sperm meets egg.

    You may be repulsed by some of the attitudes in the pro-choice movement, but as a matter of practical politics, the Democratic party is far more solicitous of pro-life voters than the Republican party is of pro-choice voters. Case in point: Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, is pro-life. Can you imagine the Republican caucus giving similar power to a pro-choice Republican?

  • Yossie

    I’d want to see abortion remain legal and safe. Do I personally care if some non-Jew in Idaho has an abortion? Not really.
    But what happens if the states make laws that would ban abortions when Chani in Boro Park’s doctor/rabbi/etc. permit/require?
    If you don’t want abortions, don’t have one, but Orthodox Jews should not be so comfortable being bedfellows with the Christian Right, because sometimes the Right is not right.

  • YoelB

    Not only that, Avi. Since halacha treats a ben Noach and a Yisrael differently in some aspects of abortion law, aren’t halacha and the US Constitutional concept of equal justice under the law at odds? That is a meme which should be kept on a leash. Sheiv indeed.

  • Aryeh

    IlanaF – The mental health canard is what is used to keep abortion legal even when its made illegal. It’s why exemptions for the mother’s life are okay, but not for her “health”, as that includes mental. If mental health is included, abortions are still legal (including partial birth) because any woman who wants an abortion can be said to have mental health issues.

    The more important issue is the one of valuing life. The abortion debate is part of the culture of dealth and devaluation of life. It’s why I’m against embryonic stem cell research, even if it is halachically okay. What the misguided Orthodox Jews miss is that the embryonic stem cell debate is a proxy for abortion, no less. Already, there is *fetal* research being done under the table, often on born-alive aborted fetuses. Those in the abortion industry know that like all other legal gradualism, funding embryonic stem cell research is the first step towards fetal research. And it’s a great way to keep abortion legal.

    I don’t know why some Orthodox Jew seems to fear the Christian right so much. Our people has faced far greater destruction in the 20th century from secularlist philosophies that devalue life (Nazism and Communism) than from Christian ones. We are seeing life devalued every day. If the tragedy of the Terri Schiavo case isn’t a chilling reminder of Baby Knauer, then just listen to folks like Peter Singer who say it is okay to kill a baby 30 days AFTER birth. Or those who argue for starving the retarded, the elderly, or the sick. Whether or not Terri Schiavo could ever recover, she was a life that needed nothing more than food and water (the same as your baby, your old mother, or your dog), and yet she was starved to death.

    It only took a decade from Baby Knauer (killing the disabled for their own good) until the Germans were killing other undesirables. I’m not saying it will happen like that here–it never happens the same way twice. But I am saying that a society that does not hold life as the ultimate value is not a place a Jew should want to live.

  • Steve Brizel

    I think that there are substantial differences between the RCC position and the halachic POV on issues such as threats to the mother’s life, etc, that any alliance would tend to confuse the public as to the halachic POV.

  • Gil

    I’m going to have to join Noam on this.

    You are right that we need to voice what Jews have to say about this.

    1- We have to say that we are not the “Pro-Life” lobby. We do not consider the fetus in any of its stages to be a full human life. Only a child once it leaves the woman’s body is a being in itself according to Jewish law.

    2- Just like we have different religious traditions than the pro-life lobby, lets not fall into their militant and misguided language. Abortion providers are not abortion mills, they are not murderous.

    If you studied the fights in congress about birth control, you’ll find that groups like NARL and Planned Parenthood fight tooth and nail to enable individuals to have access to affordable birth control so that they do not have to get abortions. They fight for comprehensive sex education so that people don’t have unwanted pregnancies. If you want concrete proof just follow the trek it took Plan B to get over the counter status.

    When you align yourself with pro-life groups, you align yourself with not only people who are against abortions in all situations, but people who are against the morning after pill, people who are against birth control, and even individuals who will kill to prevent abortions.

    Instead you can join the mainstream of America that looks to create a world with Safe, Effective, and Rare abortions. And in this way we can deal with this morally grey area – an area where so many disagree so strongly, we can at least agree that we should do all it takes to reduce the amount of people who want abortions by getting them what it takes to keep them non-pregnant.

  • Test User

    Could anybody point me to a source about the soul getting into the fetus forty days after conception?

  • Yossie

    I just wanted to add to the “red herring” bit that Toby keeps mentioning. The fact that the case made its way to the Supreme Court means that it’s not a red herring. Someone was unable to have an abortion because the state forbade it. She sued and it went to the SCOTUS and ruled in Roe v Wade regarding abortion. So I don’t think it’s a red herring nor far fetched to say that if Roe v Wade is overturned some states might rule not in accordance with Orthodox Jewish values.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Yossie: Do I personally care if some non-Jew in Idaho has an abortion? Not really.

    Ori: Do you think we shouldn’t care what non-Jews do in general, as long as it does not affect us? To take an extreme case, would you care if Georgia reinstated slavery?

    Or do you consider abortion always permissible (for gentiles, at least) and therefore don’t mind it?

  • Charles B. Hall

    Just a few comments on a generally excellent essay:

    (1) I’m not sure that most Orthodox Jews consistently vote for
    conservative political candidates; anecdotes to the contrary include
    the Satmar community of Williamsburg’s enthusiastic support for Mike
    Bloomberg, the Kiryas Joel community’s support for John Hall over Sue
    Kelly (which cost Kelly the election), and New Square’s famous
    support for Hillary Rodham Clinton when she ran for the Senate the
    first time. But you can see it even areas that are even less
    monolithically Jewish; the Bronx was George W. Bush’s worst county in
    the entire US in the 2000 election, and second worst in 2004, and a
    local state Assemblyman commented after his disasterous showing that
    every ethnic group had voted for Kerry in large numbers, “Even the
    Orthodox Jews”.

    (2) It is not really accurate to say “Christian theology” regarding
    abortion, but many Protestant churches, including President Bush’s sect, don’t teach that abortion is a sin. I don’t think it is accurate that all those churches are approving of “sex with no consequences”.

    (2) Currently, roughly half the US states have governors and
    legislatures who would be willing to ban nearly all abortions. But
    in fact much of the “pro-life” movement does not want to turn the
    issue over to the states and support for an amendment to the US
    Constitution to ban nearly all abortions has recently become a major
    issue in the Republican presidential nominating process. This would
    actually be a ban on all abortions because with nobody getting
    trained to do abortions they would not be available to anyone even
    under the rare permitted circumstances. And the Catholic Church does
    not to stop with a ban on all abortions except to save the life of
    the mother; they want to ban all abortions, period — and they just
    succeeded in Nicaragua. How they can call themselves “pro life” when
    both the mother and the fetus will die as the result of an ectopic
    pregancy escapes me.

    (3) One reason that most surgical abortions are done in free standing clinics such as many operated by local Planned Parenthood affiliates that specialize in the procedure has been the success of the pro-life groups in preventing hospitals from performing them and not because Planned Parenthood set out to become the #1 abortion provider. (Historically, they had been mainly interested in promoting birth control rather than abortion. Back in the 1940s, Prescott Bush, Sr., the father of the first President Bush, was on their board and lost an election to the US Senate for that reason; birth control would remain illegal in Connecticut until the Griswold decision in 1965.)

    (3) Medical, as opposed to surgical, abortions are now becoming
    common and can be done in any doctor’s office. My wife has worked in
    such a clinic. (She did not do them, but her posek told her that it
    was not asur for her to train medical residents in how to do them.) Medical abortions can be done very early in pregancy — as soon as a woman discovers she is pregnant. Pro life groups have tried to ban medical abortions as well; it may be impossible to do so because medical abortions can be done with a combination of drugs that have other medical purposes. It is possible that the wider availability of medical abortions contribute to recent reported declines in rates of surgical abortions in the US.

    (4) Analyses of actual rates of abortions across countries do not
    support the idea that banning abortions is the best way to reduce the
    incidence of abortion. The lowest rates worldwide are in Western
    Europe where most abortions are covered under government funded
    health insurance programs; the last data I’ve seen shows the lowest
    abortion rate to be in the Netherlands, were abortions are free for
    citizens! If we want to change the abortion rate, we should work on
    changing the culture, not the laws.

    Regarding the comment on possible differences between Jews and Noachides regarding the permissibility of abortions, see this post on hirhurim:

    http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2005/03/abortion-ii.html

    The comments include a link to Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein’s article:

    http://www.vbm-torah.org/halakha/abortion.htm

    A quote from Rav Lichtenstein (who seems to rule stringently regarding abortions for Jewish women):

    ‘It is inconceivable that this action would be permitted to a Jew given the great halakhic principle which states: “Can there be any act which is permitted to a Jew and at the same time prohibited to a Noachide?” (Chullin 33a). In other words, no action forbidden to a non-Jew, of whom the Torah requires a less exacting moral standard, can be permitted to the Jew.’

  • Barry

    interesting piece, althouigh inaccurate in at least two ways:

    1. Planned Parenthoood and the pro choice community have been backers of the so-called “morning after pill. I would like to see any evidence that the author has that Planned Parenthood is against the pill because they make so much money on providing abortions, or any other reason. She should do the research, then determine whether a correction and apology may be in order.

    2. If the Supremes — by a vote of 5/4 no doubt — over rule Roe v wade, holding that life begins at conception and the fertilized ovum has human rights as of that moment, there may be no state to state decision, but the federal constitution may be held to protect the rights of that fertilized ovum from that point, irrespective of competing rights of the pregnant woman, or at the very released, to balance the rights of the fertilized ovum from that of the pregnant woman from the time of fertilization. No state by state nonsense will protect the pregnant orthodox New York woman because NY is a pro-choice state.

    3. The author properly, in my arrogant opinion, denies the existence of a homogenous “judeao-christian” view on this (on anything else?) I would like to see more comment on this here.

  • One Christian's perspective

    Noam, I just met a mother who would have gladly given her life so that her baby could have one. This is a mother who knew by the 4th month of pregnancy that her baby would be either still-born or born with a severe handicap. The child was born looking beautiful and normal with all parts visible but shortly thereafter it wad determined that she had only the lining of the brain – the brain was not there. She lived for 3 years and was cherished as a gift from G-d. When G-d came for the child, the mother cried out to G-d for more time over and over again. And, at last, there was no more time to be granted. G-d revealed Himself to the mother in a special way and then the mother, in tears, told her daughter she was placing her in the arms of Her Heavenly Father, the child who in 3 years never cried and never matured beyond the age of 2 months old, opened her bright blue eyes revealing one tear in her right eye and one tear in her left eye. And then, she passed peacefully from this world into the arms of her Heavenly Father.

    The life of this mother was to love unconditionally a child who needed to be held for 12-18 hours a day. It was not always easy during this three year period but abortion was not something the woman would even consider before the birth, during the life of the child and after the death of the child. What she learned about herself and about G-d in those three years is beyond price. The lives of the child’s parents have been a blessing to others in ways that would not be had this event not happened. I never look at them and not see a smile on their faces.

    - Comment by One Christian

  • David N. Friedman

    Of course we need to care if any American has an abortion–it is a clear moral wrong. As Toby Katz makes plain, our community has been branded as pro-abortion by the loud voices of the liberal Jewish community and it is important for the rest of us to speak up and indicate our position as the true Jewish stand.

    Further, there is little mention of the fact that women die as a result of having an abortion and about a handful have died from the morning after pill. The Jewish position concerning premarital sex is almost never verbalized in the culture.

    The fact that we have a different stand regarding when a life begins has no bearing on whether or not almost all abortions are wrong. It is spurious to imply that Judaism is not pro-life when Judaism is emphatically pro-life. Further, whether or not abortion is murder is also a distraction from the topic at hand since many actions are banned besides murder. As Jews, we are pro-life and oppose abortions in all but a few cases that are well-known—period. We are sensitive to the feelings of women who have miscarriages and recognize their loss as tragic.

    The willingness of American culture to accept 1 million abortions a year has a dreadful affect on all of us and the failure of the Jewish community to stand together with Christians in opposition to the status quo is obvious. If we are true moral arbiters in our general society, we have little credibility if we cannot come out strongly against such an obvious problem.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    How often is an abortion medically necessary and travel is dangerous? Given Canada’s politics, I doubt abortions will be made illegal there any time soon. Travel to Canada is not that expensive.

    In a world with a global economy and national governments, economics win over the law in most cases.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Mrs. Katz states that “All fifty state legislatures, answerable to the will of the people, would permit abortion under certain circumstances, emphatically INCLUDING to save the mother’s life.”

    I remember the abortion debates in the 1960s. The ideological forefathers of today’s pro-life movement were unalterably opposed to any liberalization of abortion laws beyond permitting abortions to save a woman’s life. And medical and hospital tissue committees came down hard on proposed abortions. I still remember when Colorado amended its law to permit abortion in the case of rape, a DA stating that unless he had enough evidence of rape to get a grand jury indictment against someone, he was going against the woman and her doctor. I remember the liberalization debate in the New York legislature, when the pro-life forces, when faced with modest attempts to liberalize New York law, forced the body to consider a repeal of all abortion laws relating to the first two trimesters, in the hope that it would be too radical to pass. When the NY legislature voted to repeal the liberalization law, it reinstated the old draconian provisions. Only a veto by Governor Rockefeller kept liberalization in place. So don’t be so sure that abortions would be available under any but the most extreme conditions.

    Oh, while I’m about it, I would argue that if Roe v Wade were overturned, or if Christians had their way, then Jewish women wouldn’t be able to obtain abortions when halachically required to save the woman’s life or health. I remember what it took to get an abortion in the 1960s. My mother had one. In Puerto Rico, because it wasn’t possible to get one in New York.

    It would be nice if the abortion debate had some midground. However, we are faced with two choices, totally legal abortions or no abortions at all (except to save the woman’s life, and only then when the case is overwhelmingly obvious). That is how the pro-life people have framed this debate, and that’s where it is. And given those two choices, I vote reluctantly for totally legal abortions.

  • Charles B. Hall, PhD

    David Friedman is correct in that a few women die each year as a result of having an abortion: Ten out of 848,163, to be precise, in 2003, the most recent year for which data are available on the CDC web site. That is 1.2 per 100,000 abortions. However, he fails to mention that the maternal mortality rate in that same year was 12.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. Thus according to the US government — with an executive branch run by pro-lifers — it was ten times more dangerous for a woman to give birth than to have an abortion.

    This is not an argument for abortion. And there is certainly some misclassification of causes of death in both those statistics. (I heard of a more recent study that indicates that the increased risk from pregancy might be only sevenfold greater, not tenfold greater.) But to point out risks from abortion without pointing out that there are significant risks from a full term pregnancy that might well be substantially greater is disingenuous. It makes the public less likely to listen to the pro-life movement in other areas.

    I agree that a million abortions a year in the US are appalling! But why have I never heard of anyone from the pro-life side of this argument suggesting that we see what has been done in Europe to achieve the lowest abortion rates in the world? Preaching to True Believers will change nothing.

  • thanbo

    Ori Pomerantz:

    How often is an abortion medically necessary and travel is dangerous? Given Canada’s politics, I doubt abortions will be made illegal there any time soon. Travel to Canada is not that expensive.

    It is to a woman too poor to put up the security deposit on an apartment. And what if she doesn’t have a passport, now necessary for travel to and from Canada? Even expedited processing (for an additional charge) takes almost a month now, where it used to take a week; regular processing takes three months, by which time the abortion would be medically impossible.

    The rich have always been able to get an abortion, if necessary/wanted. Roe v. Wade made it more available to the poor, by ensuring that every state legalized abortion.

  • Noam

    Dear One Christian- your story is very moving, and says much about the self sacrifice of ONE particular set of parents. However, there are many potential parents who do not have the pyschological or emotional resources to do the same. For that reason, Jewish law allows abortion in cases of severe psychological distress of the mother. In fact, it is mandated if it is going to cause severe psychological distress. If you think about it, there are many cases of post-partem depression even when the baby is totally healthy. There is also an incidence of suicide in post partem mothers. Jewish law takes this into account and does not force a mother to have a child if it is going to cause here severe psychological distress. Of course, the definition of severe psychological distress is interpreted differently across the range of orthodoxy.

  • One Christian's perspective

    Dear One Christian- your story is very moving, and says much about the self sacrifice of ONE particular set of parents. However, there are many potential parents who do not have the pyschological or emotional resources to do the same.

    Comment by Noam

    To be honest Noam, on my own strength, I KNOW I would not have the psychological or emotional resources to do what these folks did. This couple did not do this on their own strength. G-d was and is a big part of their lives – before the pregnancy (which BTW, they were told would never happen in their life time), during the pregnancy (which happened 30 days after the doctors pronouncement and when they thought their dreams had been answered), after the pregnancy (when they realized their dreams had been shattered), the time of birth of the child up to and including her death (when their faith grew stronger, their prayers bolder, and their knowledge of G-d passed from mere knowledge to a relationship to being in His presence). All of these phases, G-d used for his glory and good. That is also a prayer of theirs that G-d answered and is answering. G-d took one child from them and gave them many – all abandoned and discarded – living in horrid conditions abroad.
    .

    You’re right, this story is about one particular set of parents (and G-d). In looking back through time, I am reminded of many such parents.

    I can truly appreciate that Jewish law takes into account the mother’s life and the severe psychological distress she may face ! You see, years ago, I decided not to have children ever and chose to be sterilized because I did not think I could face the trauma of abortion. I grew up in an emotional abusive home and I did not want to perpetuate the hurt that I had experienced. By G-d’s grace, I am a different person today. I have forgiven my parents and I am able to mourn the natural children I chose to not have as a pathway to healing. Out of all this, G-d has placed an 80 year old retarded man into our lives. This child so loved by his mother for 81 years. It is an awesome honor and a joy to be a little part of his life.

    I sincerely hope that I would not judge anyone’s pain and suffering in a negative judgmental manner.