“I will not help you murder your baby.” That’s what a doctor told me when I suffered an early pregnancy loss and was sent to his office to talk about receiving what should have been routine medical care.
I was devastated to suffer a miscarriage. The pregnancy was non-viable. The heartbeat inside me at nine weeks gestation was 40 beats per minute; a viable pregnancy that results in a baby should be at 140-150 beats per minute. I was having a miscarriage and needed medical attention to make sure I didn’t retain any fetal products, which can be extremely dangerous or even fatal.
But the doctor who was supposed to help me said, “Life begins at conception. When there is a heartbeat, it is a person. If you remove the fetus, you kill a baby.
Horrified and in shock that someone would call me a murderer, I thought: I have never prayed to God harder in my life than to have a healthy pregnancy. It doesn’t work and it’s not what I wanted. Why does he say I’m killing my baby?
With tears, I replied that I am Jewish and according to Jewish law, the life of the mother comes first. This includes his mental health. I suffered mentally and physically from the outcome of this pregnancy. Why wouldn’t it work to ease my pain?
But it was a futile conversation. I was given a speech on morality, while his job was to treat me for a medical condition. I wasn’t looking for ethical advice; in these cases, I also turn to competent professionals in their field, such as my rabbi, who can help me answer questions of conscience and faith. I don’t expect such conversations when I see a healthcare professional.
Judaism has always encouraged debate and reflection on a variety of issues, but in the case of abortion, there are concrete examples on which our leaders base their interpretations of the law. There is also an unshakeable rule that every Jewish leader subscribes to: if a woman’s life is in danger during a pregnancy, the mother’s life always comes first and she must always be saved first. Judaism does not allow a woman’s life to be sacrificed for a fetus.
I reached out to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, Scholar-in-Residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, to discuss this further. She explained in a telephone interview that Jewish law is clear on abortion: “A story from the book of Exodus, which is part of the Hebrew Bible, forms the basis of Judaism’s formal view of abortion. . Two people are fighting; a pregnant woman is accidentally pushed, causing a miscarriage. The text describes the consequences: If only a miscarriage occurs, the wrongdoer is obliged to pay damages. If, however, the pregnant person dies, the case is treated as manslaughter. We learn from this that the fetus has a different status from that of the person. The meaning is clear: the fetus is seen as potential life, rather than real life.
Ruttenberg further cited the Talmud, a collection of statements by ancient rabbis, which states that during the first 40 days of pregnancy, the fetus is just water and has no legal or moral status. From the end of this 40-day period until the end of pregnancy, it is considered part of the woman’s body, “like her mother’s thigh”. Again, the fetus is considered secondary to the mother.
The concept of life beginning at conception is not part of Jewish theology. Indeed, according to the Torah, Genesis 2:7, a “living soul” is created when God “breathes into its nostrils the breath of life”. Life began for the first man when he was able to breathe on his own; there is no mention of a heartbeat.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is an Orthodox rabbi and the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization. He explained: “Abortion is a sad reality and a very sensitive issue for almost everyone involved, as few people are flippant about the end of a potential life. But, in certain situations, Jewish law mandates abortion as the right and necessary choice.
According to ancient and current Jewish scholars, each case where an abortion might be necessary is a unique situation for the person and families involved. Judaism values women and believes that they can make meaningful decisions about their bodies and their lives.
“The right to abortion, where applicable, reflects not only the Jewish commitment to the dignity of women, but also the core commitments of what constitutes a just society,” Yanklowitz explained.
The Supreme Court should not meddle with religious freedoms as it does with the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Some states will limit or completely eliminate a woman’s right to choose her own medical treatment because the laws of many states are based on a fringe position of some die-hard Christian theologians that life begins at conception. This violates my First Amendment rights that no religion or religious interpretation shall be enshrined in law or regulation. As a Jewish person, I am supposed to be guaranteed the freedom to practice my religious beliefs – including exercising the belief that a fetus is not a person by having access to appropriate medical care during pregnancy, including including abortion. Applying Christian beliefs to all of American society goes against everything the Constitution makes clear.
Yanklowitz explained, “With all due respect to our Christian friends, we don’t want Christian theologies imposing abortion laws in America for Jews, especially in situations where the life of the mother is in danger. The Jewish people should oppose these laws because they violate the separation between religion and state and are potentially an attack on religious freedom.
Jewish organizations are already battling Roe’s overthrow: A Florida synagogue filed a lawsuit against the restrictive new abortion law, arguing it violates religious freedom. The National Council of Jewish Women said it would train women across the country to challenge the abortion ban. And the Women’s Rabbinic Network is committed to continuing to help all women seeking access to abortion. Through such actions, we can only hope that positive change can be implemented.
As for me, it seems clear that my religious beliefs are being ignored and my ability to make decisions about my health care in accordance with my faith is being dismantled. If the Supreme Court justices don’t care about this attack on my basic rights, then I shudder to think of what other impositions they might make in the future.