Judaism and Abortion

We cannot vote Republican
By Shlomoh
March 25, 2012

Yesterday [SHABBAT] I attended the luncheon at Beth Israel Cleveland Heights Synagogue. CHAZAN Lance Colie spoke on Judaism and Abortion. Colie's talk incorporated insights from Talmudic and various Rabbinic sources. He concentrated on the TORAH's observation from Exodus 2122ff -

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) renders Exodus 21:22-25 this way:

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

This translation suggests that if a miscarriage takes place and the child is lost, the antagonists are simply fined, but if the mother dies in the scuffle, then the penalty is "life for life." In the Torah, it seems, the unborn is not considered fully human.

The relevant phrase in the passage, "...she has a miscarriage...," reads wºyase û ye ladêhâ in the Hebrew. It's a combination of a Hebrew noun--yeled--and a verb--yasa--and literally means "the child comes forth." The NASB makes note of this literal rendering in the margin.

Speaking with references to extra-Biblical sources [Talmudic], Rev Colie cited some relevant passages about circumstances under which abortion may be performed, such as incest or rape. In these cases, the rabbinic question arises whether or not the fetus becomes a RODEF.

DIN RODEF means, literally, "the case of the pursuer," although it might be more idiomatically translated into English as "the right of self-defense." It refers to the rabbinic precept that, as articulated by Maimonides, says: "Every Jew is obligated to save a pursued person from his pursuer, even if this means killing the pursuer." A "pursuer," in the rabbinic context, is someone who is a threat to someone's life. If you see a mugger with a knife running after someone in the street, for example, he is a RODEF and it is your duty, if you can carry it out without risk to your own life, to stop him in any way you can - even by shooting him with the gun you are carrying.

Therefore, the sages ruled that when a woman has difficulty in labor it is permitted to dismember the fetus within her, either by drugs or by surgery, because the fetus is like aRODEF pursuing her to kill her.

Rav Judah said in the name of Samuel: If a woman is about to be executed one strikes her against her womb so that the child may die first, to avoid her being disgraced. That means to say that [otherwise] she dies first? But we have an established principle that child dies first … This applies only to [her natural] death because the child's life is very frail. The drop [of poison] from the angel of death enters and destroys its vital organs but in the case of death by execution she dies first… [Arakhin 7a-b]

What is occurring here? This is the introduction of an argument that the fetus is simply not a NEFESH [living human soul] and therefore, as a part of a women's body, until the head is born, that it is not a matter of property, and that the avoidance of disgrace, even for a convicted murderer are valid reasons for an abortion. WHAT IS AT STAKE IS THE PERSONHOOD OF THE WOMEN, NOT THE FETUS, and we are given the most extreme account to prove this point.. Rashi, commenting on Arakhin and on Sanhedrin 72b: argues that as long as the fetus has not emerged into the light of the world, it is not a NEFESH. This argument continues in later responsa. In fact, some later commentators extend the liminal moral status even after birth.

The arguments of self-defense-the fetus as RODEF.
This argument states that fetus is a danger to the woman, and can be aborted because of the more general rule of self defense: this argument becomes articulated as the argument called the RODEF. (pursuer)" We see this in Mishneh 6: "If a woman suffer hard labor in travail, the child must be cut up in her womb and brought out piecemeal, for her life takes precedence over its life; but IF ITS GREATER PART HAS [ALREADY] COME FORTH, it must not be touched, for the [claim of one] life cannot supersede [that of another] life."

Without going into a greater amount of detail, what emerged from Rev Colie's talk is that if a woman's life is at stake, the fetus IS a RODEF, and an example of that is that if she suffers extreme mental anguish over the pregnancy, abortion is an option. What were the rabbis concerned with when they discussed mental anguish? They meant mental anguish leading to possible suicide. If "only" a matter of mental anguish, then KAL VE-CHOMER some greater threat to her life or even only her well-being has to be considered.

The Jewish attitude to obtaining "permission" to abort involves a BETH DIN. A Jewish woman is expected to consult a rabbi when abortion is being considered. To overcome the objection of so-called liberals that a woman owes no one a consultation, the fact may be that an abortion or thought of aborting is a CRISIS. Since when do we not counsel people to get the feedback or input of others when they are experiencing crisis?  The object of the rabbinic court [BETH DIN] is to listen to the woman. LISTEN is the operative word. She has something to say and she also brings her "witnesses". Who are the witnesses? They are her husband or father of the unborn, her doctor, psychoanalyst, lawyer, or any other person who has something of value to add to the issue.

The rabbis listen to her and then later they render an opinion.

What is the difference between an opinion and a decision? She is not asking whether or not a particular chicken is KOSHER. In that case he would render a decision. Here, he renders an opinion. Should he give her a rabbinic decision about her thought of abortion and she disobeys, she is a sinner. Therefore they can only render an opinion which she can listen to or not. But at least some human beings have discussed it with her and shown her the Jewish view[s].

What is the relevance for us?

Let me begin by stating that I am NOT pro-abortion. I consider an abortion under any circumstance to be, if not a tragedy, then close to it; at least a sad occasion.
My OPINIONS about abortion are pretty much informed by my Jewishness and my very limited knowledge of Jewish law. This is a serious issue. Any pregnancy is the occasion of potential human life. It may or may not be that LIFE begins at conception but it is potential life. Jews do not believe that HUMAN life begins with conception. That is a completely non-Jewish belief. It is NOT a TORAH perspective. Christian women who are complete strangers to me have written me, telling me that they are aware of the Christian ideas about abortion but they want me to tell them what the Jewish attitude is. These are adult women who live in areas of the country where they don't get a chance to come into contact with Jews. At least these women realize that there may be another idea about the issue. So I am definitely anti-abortion but I AM 100% pro-choice! I'm not a woman and there is no way that I can EVER experience either physically or emotionally what a woman feels and so I have no moral right to dictate to her what to do. I can counsel or give my advice but I cannot in good conscience see laws coming into existence that may affect her life so negatively.

Abortion is no longer merely a moral or religious or even a medical issue. It has now become an over-riding POLITICAL issue, strongly influenced by the Christian Evangelical Right, the darlings of the Republican Party.

Questions arise. Do we realize that the overwhelming majority of Americans are not aware that religious Judaism has ideas about abortion different from their own? On a radio talk show that Colie once listened to, the subject was abortion and the ONLY people calling in were Christians. When Colie called in and told the radio host that Jews have opinions about abortion that are at variance with Christian opinion, the host said he was completely unaware of this. And no wonder. As Colie points out, Jews who have a lot so say just about everything, keep mum about abortion. Why is this? Have we ever heard any Jews joining in to the abortion "debate"? No. Not even REPUBLICAN Jews. What's up with that? Colie thinks that the reason may be that since Jewish Republicans agree with the general Republican outlook on things, they don't want to alienate nonJewish Republicans by butting heads about "the right to life" [so-called]. Or maybe they just don't care. Maybe they don't consider it that important because their own attitude is that if one of ours needs an abortion, she will get it. That's a dangerous attitude. We are Americans and we share with our Christian fellow citizens the RESPONSIBILITY of the future direction of the country. Or maybe they are so wrapped up in Christian support for Israel that they don't want to muddy the waters by opposing Christian political pressure to deny women a vital free choice in their lives. By the way, Israeli women have no problem obtaining abortions.

A certain rabbi of a well-known Upper West Side synagogue once got up and made the following statement. "We Jews should have stood shoulder to shoulder with our Christian brethren on the issue of abortion." I just wanted to puke. What? When it comes to abortion, Christians are not my brethren. They may be my brethren on OTHER issues but not on this one. And why?  Because mainly they are completely ignorant of the fact that their opinions about when human life begins is not ours. Briefly, our opinion states that the fetus is not a human being until it is two-thirds emerged from the mother's body. Further, it is not given the FULL status of humanity until it reaches the age of 30 days. Before that, if the baby should die, no formal or ritualistic mourning takes place. Religious Jews realize that these opinions are based on long and thorough thought and discussions on the matter by our rabbis over CENTURIES, taking individual cases into consideration. What does the average lay Christian take into consideration? Certainly not consideration for the mother or the family if you listen to Sarah Palin who told a reporter that abortion is NEVER OK. When he asked her if she would feel differently in the case of incest or rape, she said it is not permissible ever, even in those cases. They don't give a damn about her humanity or what SHE thinks.
And on what is it based? It can't be based on their faith [even though they claim it is]. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus EVER address abortion; nor does Paul, their chief prophet. So if Evangelicals claim that the ONLY valid source of RELIGIOUS knowledge is the Scripture, what's their source? Their source is OUTSIDE the scripture, from the mouths of their preachers and their political leaders.

We have allowed the Republican and Christian Parties  to take control of the discussion and because we have done so, our women are in danger of going back to the back alley and coat hanger. Just know this. In general, people have come to believe that Roe vs Wade cannot be overturned. Therefore, to get around the NATIONAL law, they have decided to attack the issue on a state level, and they say that they will get rid of abortion in all 50 states by legal means. This should frighten every thinking Jew, liberal or conservative. Colie states that he has young daughters and he is in fear that should they ever need an abortion, they will not be able to have it even if it is justified.

I used to work for the ACLU and at the time I believed that a teen-aged girl should get her parents' approval before getting an abortion. I changed my mind when I became aware of an ACLU case involving a 13 year old, made pregnant by her father and that father refused her request for an abortion.

Why is Colie afraid? Why should WE be afraid?

Look at this. It's the shape of things to come unless we stop shutting up, and it may be too late for us even if we now speak out.

From the webpage at http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USTRE75R7NC20110628

Ohio House approves abortion ban after heartbeat
Tue, Jun 28 2011
By Jo Ingles
COLUMBUS (Reuters) - The Ohio House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can be as early as six weeks.
The House voted 54 to 43 for the ban, along party lines, with most Republicans voting in favor.
If enacted, the law would be a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which upheld a woman's right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at 22-24 weeks.
Republican Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder said he knows this bill will face a court challenge. "We're writing bills for courts," he said.
The bill now goes to the Republican-dominated Ohio Senate.
The Ohio House also passed two other abortion restrictions Tuesday, one that would ban late-term abortions after 20 weeks if a doctor determines that the fetus is viable outside the womb. Another bill excludes abortion coverage from the state insurance exchange created by the federal health care law.
The late-term ban already was passed by the Ohio Senate.
Neither bill was as contentious as the heartbeat legislation, WHICH DOES NOT CONTAIN EXCEPTIONS FOR RAPE, INCEST OR THE LIFE OR HEALTH OF THE MOTHER.
Republican Representative Danny Bubp said the bill is the will of the voters. He noted that Republicans, who tend to favor anti-abortion laws, became the majority in the state house last November.
"We have to reflect on what Ohio did on November 2nd of last year," said Bubp. "And that is they voted. And they voted for change. Today, we have three pro-life bills on the floor and I'm happy about that."
Democrats in the Ohio House said the heartbeat bill goes too far.
"This bill gives the government the ultimate power, the ultimate power to intrude upon the most personal and intimate decisions of our lives, of women's lives, frankly," said Rep. Connie Pillich.
Ohio Right to Life also has expressed concerns about the heartbeat bill. The organization said the bill is unconstitutional and believes it is not wise to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer's dollars defending it.
(Reporting by Jo Ingles; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton and Peter Bohan)

NOTE: "This bill gives the government the ultimate power" and this despite hypocritical statements by Conservatives that government should stay out of our personal lives. Is this another instance of what appears to be a women hating agenda along with denial of contraceptives, attacking Planned Parenthood, and woman-shaming as is now going to take place in Arizona?

From the webpage at http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/03/21/448772/arizona-lawmaker-women-should-watch-an-abortion-being-performed-prior-to-having-it/?mobile=nc

Arizona Lawmaker: Women Should 'Watch An Abortion Being Performed' Prior To Having It
By Igor Volsky on Mar 21, 2012 at 8:30 am
Arizona Rep. Terri Proud (R)
The Arizona legislature is considering at least two separate bills that would significantly limit women's access to abortion by banning the procedure after 20 weeks of gestation and strip funding to Planned Parenthood. But those restrictions don't go far enough for conservative lawmaker Rep. Terri Proud (R) who told a constituent in an email that WOMEN SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO "WATCH AN ABORTION BEING PERFORMED" PRIOR TO HAVING IT:
"Personally I'd like to make a law that mandates a woman watch an abortion being performed prior to having a 'surgical procedure'. If it's not a life it shouldn't matter, if it doesn't harm a woman then she shouldn't care, and don't we want more transparency and education in the medical profession anyway? We demand it everywhere else.
Until the dead child can tell me that she/he does not feel any pain - I have no intentions of clearing the conscience of the living - I will be voting YES."
Proud is now co-sponsoring a measure that would allow employers to opt out of covering birth control in their health insurance plans.

NOTE: "If it's not a life it shouldn't matter". Like most Christian positions on morality,  there is no critical thinking involved; just black and white simplistic platitudes.

In 2008 I had difficulty deciding for whom I would vote. I considered voting for McCain because he is a war-hero and I  really knew nothing about Obama. One day I was listening to Howard Stern who also was not sure about whom to vote for. He said that he had heard the McCain-Palin people badmouthing abortion and so there was no way he was going to vote Republican. Really, he said that if he heard one more ignorant utterance about abortion, he would scream.  He said that he has 3 daughters and would be damned if he would help allow the repeal of R vs W. Well that settled it for me as well. I would not vote for a party that has a narrow, uninformed view of something as important as abortion. The same thing has happened this year. I started out not knowing how I would vote and as the year progreses, it occurs to me that the situation is far worse than it was in 2008.

This is not a country I want the women in my family growing up in. Jews! If we don't speak up now, we will get what we deserve. We have an obligation to protect our women and their human rights and our religious tradition. That's right. A Christian Conservative win on this issue is not only a strike against us as Americans but a  strike and insult to our religion.

Please pass this on to as many people as you think care about decency and women's plight.

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