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Abortion

All branches of Judaism oppose abortion for convenience, especially as many childless Jewish couples are waiting eagerly for a child to adopt.

Abortion for therapeutic reasons, when the mother's life is clearly in danger, is mandatory in Judaism. Her life takes absolute precedence over the potential life of the fetus, even at the very latest stages of development, as late as birth itself (Ohalot 7:6). The fetus is regarded as potential life, but not as full life, until late in the process of birth.

Rabbis have dealt with differences of opinions among the masters, whether or not the fetus is to be regarded as a person. Maimonides and the Shulhan Arukh seem to hold that way. there is no question that the life of the mother must be saved. There is however, an issue, whether abortion may be permitted for other reasons. If we assume, as Rashi does, that the fetus is not a human being at any time until birth, we shall arrive at conclusions of wider latitude.

Other rabbis make a distinction between the various stages of the fetus's development. The issue is a religious one.

But Judaism has a profound respect for life, even potential life. It has had to come to grips with situations when the mother's life was not in immediate danger but other conditions were of concern: rape, incest, danger to the mother's emotional health, expected deformities in the child, (Tay-Sachs disease, and other potentials for the child to be).

On these questions the Orthodox authorities are of divergent mind, and the Orthodox woman will have to consult her rabbi.

Judaism has made the distinction between potential and actual life out of its own deep commitment to life. It regards potential life as sacred; its wanton destruction cannot be sanctioned. But the actually living person is sacrosanct, and the life and the welfare of this person are inviolate.

To sustain the living in every way must be our lasting concern.


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