abortion & Judaism

BIBLICAL TIMES 

There are no references to abortion in the Torah. 

However, there is one reference to miscarriage: should a man strike a woman and cause her to miscarry, he was to pay a fine of 10 shekalim. If the woman died due to the altercation, he was to be put to death. 

 

RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVES

Though perspectives on abortion vary between denominations and sects, in Judaism, the life of the mother ALWAYS takes precedence over the fetus. 

Rabbinic Judaism does not consider the fetus a full human life. If pregnancy risks the life of the mother — medically or psychologically — abortion is permitted or even encouraged. 

In Orthodox Judaism, abortion is permitted if the pregnancy will cause physical or psychological harm to the mother. Conservative and Reform Judaism are even more liberal in their approaches, permitting abortion in a number of circumstances. All three groups agree that the decision is never to be taken lightly. 

 

DR. GISELLA PERL & THE HOLOCAUST

One of the most vulnerable groups during the Holocaust were pregnant Jewish and Roma women. At death camps such as Auschwitz, for example, women whose pregnancies were discovered were sent straight to the gas chambers. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor infamous for his experiments on prisoners, enjoyed beating and killing pregnant women so that he could perform vivisections. 

Gisella Perl (1907-1988) was a Jewish gynaecologist from Romania who risked her life to perform life-saving abortions during her time at Auschwitz. She performed these procedures with no anesthesia or tools other than a knife and her bare hands. 

 

ABORTION IN ISRAEL

Abortion was legalised in Israel in 1978 with the condition that it is approved by a termination committee. The committee permits abortion under the following circumstances:

(1) the woman is under 20 or over 40 

(2) the pregnancy was conceived under rape, incest, or outside of marriage 

(3) the fetus may have a physical or mental health defect 

(4) the pregnancy risks the physical or mental health of the woman 

98% of cases are approved. If an abortion is performed without approval, the woman isn’t punished but the physician will face a fine (though there are no known cases of this actually happening).  

Israel’s abortion laws are among the most liberal in the world. 

 

HOLOCAUST COMPARISONS 

Let’s get this out of the way first: comparing abortion to the Holocaust is completely inappropriate and antisemitic. Please see my post THE DO’S AND DON’T’S OF HOLOCAUST COMPARISONS for more on why Holocaust comparisons are harmful. 

There is nothing remotely similar between abortion and the Holocaust, especially since, in many situations, Judaism considers abortion a life-saving medical procedure. 

The Holocaust was the state-sanctioned genocide of Jewish and Roma people. Jewish and Roma women often had to have abortions in order to survive. In contrast, abortion in the United States is an individual choice. The American government is not forcing anyone to have an abortion.