A quick primer in light of recent news regarding Roe v. Wade
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) and Reconstructing Judaism (RJ) put out a statement on May 3rd condemning the leaked documents indicating that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade. Reconstructing Judaism strongly conveyed the movement’s belief that access to reproductive choice is a human right and must be protected at both the state and federal level. The RRA and RJ will be participating in a Jewish Rally for Abortion Rights on May 17th at Capitol Hill. Read the full statement and get details on the rally here.
Amongst the current political turmoil surrounding the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it might hearten you to know that Jewish thinkers have been pondering the morality of abortion for millennia. According to Tomas J. Silber, a Jewish physician and medical researcher, Jewish law puts fetuses and embryos in a different category than infants. This is exemplified by the fact that Jews do not say Kaddish for a fetus, but do perform the ritual for an infant. Additionally, if a mother converts to Judaism while pregnant, the baby is considered Jewish, and therefore the baby does not need to immerse in a mikvah (Talmud Bavli Yevamot 78a).
Some of you may remember Rabbi Ora’s Shavuot teaching in 2019 on Jewish perspectives on abortion. Our congregation looked at multiple historical Jewish texts that discuss abortion, including:
Talmud Bavli Yevamot 69b:
Rav Chisda says: And if she is pregnant, until 40 days from conception the fetus is merely water.
Mishna Oholot 7:8:
If a woman is having difficulty in giving birth [and her life is in danger], one cuts up the fetus within her womb and extracts it limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over that of the fetus. But if the greater part was already born, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for that of another.
The National Council for Jewish Women (NCJW) has stated that “Jewish sources explicitly state that abortion is not only permitted but is required should the pregnancy endanger the life or health of the pregnant individual. Furthermore, ‘health’ is commonly interpreted to encompass psychological health as well as physical health. NCJW advocates for abortion access as an essential component of comprehensive, affordable, confidential, and equitable family planning, reproductive, sexual health, and maternal health services.”
There is strong support for abortion rights in Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism, as well as historical precedent that supports women’s access to abortion. The Conservative movement has condoned abortion “if a continuation of pregnancy might cause the mother severe physical or psychological harm, or when the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective.” The Orthodox movement supports abortion when a mother’s life is at risk, but leaves further discretion on a case-by-case basis. Outside the Jewish world, the PEW research center has found that 60% of American support access to reproductive choice.
If you feel inspired to take action regarding access to reproductive choice, consider donating to Planned Parenthood or sign the petition circulating locally to amend the Michigan constitution to establish reproductive choice and codify Roe v. Wade in Michigan.