Judaism & Abortion

After last week’s Representative Todd Akin debacle, I have been wondering what Judaism thinks about abortion.  Do we believe, like him, there are almost never any grounds for an abortion. Or, do we believe like more liberal politicians, that it is a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion if she wants?


Dear Betty,

That is a good and complex question.  The Talmud, Judaism’s ancient book of Jewish law, does speak about abortions.  It says that if the baby in utero is threatening the mother’s life, an abortion must be done to save the mother. On the other hand, if the baby has already begun to be born (its head is sticking out),  it is then considered to be a full fledged human being and we would not put aside one life for another.

There are various other Talmudic legal cases pertaining to abortion which touch on other issues. These include whether emotional trauma to the mother would be grounds for an abortion, and the various periods within the gestation process, some early ones in which a fetus is less developed which might result in different legal decisions than later in the gestational process.  Such questions are the subject of much Halachic (Jewish legal) debate, and the topic is certainly too large to deal with in this context.

In summary, I would say that Judaism falls out in the middle.  A fetus is not a full fledged life, but it is also “not nothing.”  It is a potential life, and this is a very holy thing.

We believe that there are cases where an abortion is not only warranted but obligatory.  On the other hand we do not believe that it is anyone’s right to choose to have one for any reason they wish.  Each case must be dealt with in a careful manner on a case by case basis, taking into account both the legal precedent cases within Jewish law and the spirit of the law.

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