Jewish Attitudes Towards Abortion


Notes on David M. Feldman, "This Matter of Abortion," ch. 9, Health and Medicine in the Jewish Tradition. L'Hayyim - to Life  (New York: Crossroad, 1986).


Rabbi Feldman is a highly respected figure among Conservative and Reform Jews.  In this chapter, he reviews the Biblical texts and Talmudic interpretations and teachings regarding abortion. Briefly, while there is some variance in rabbinic opinion regarding the exact circumstances - where the health, life, and well-being of the mother are threatened by the completion of her pregnancy with the birth of the fetus, abortion is permissible, indeed mandated in some cases.

Outline:

I. The limits of religious freedom, and Jewish teaching vis-a-vis rights-based arguments for abortion

II: Biblical and Talmudic sources on abortion: religious definitions of personhood

III: Judaism vs. Christianity: Hebrew vs. Greek texts as the source of divergent teachings on abortion

IV: Judaism vs. Christianity: "ensoulment" and Augustine's doctrine of Original Sin

V: Jewish doctrine on abortion: allowable, even required, when the life of the mother is at stake

VI: "Choose life!"? Two traditions, two interpretations 

VII: Further considerations in Jewish teaching: "left" and "right" debates over the circumstances of allowable and necessary abortions

VIII: Concluding comments: liberty and conscience - limits on abortion, limits on laws


I. The limits of religious freedom, and Jewish teaching vis-a-vis rights-based arguments for abortion  

Feldman presents this as the distillation of Jewish opinion on the matter, which suggests that strict laws against abortion would violate the religious freedom of Jews.  He will conclude his chapter on just this point - but he begins by noting that the religious freedom argument is not absolute. Rather, if abortion is defined as murder, and thus is against the law of the State - then, "If we forbid polygamy to the Mormons, we're certainly not going to permit murder to anyone on the grounds of religious freedom." (80) Continuing, however:

But if abortion is not murder, then we can talk about it. Then I would say, yes, [a proposed law banning abortions] does interfere with my ministry. Since Jewish law does not equate it with murder, there are circumstances under which Jewish law would permit, or even mandate, an abortion. But I am not at liberty to invoke any lenient rulings of Jewish law as long as the State law forbids it. (80)

Similarly, Jewish views on abortion don't neatly fit another standard pro-choice argument - the view that abortion is within a woman's rights, "the right of a woman to do with her body or her reproductive faculties as she sees fit."  In response to this suggestion, he says:

Again I must say you have first got to answer the prior question. Is abortion murder? If it is, then you cannot talk about women's rights. There are no rights to murder....But if abortion is not murder, then we can talk about it. Then I would say that the State's law [forbidding abortion] does infringe on the rights of women. I would go much further and say that it infringes even more than you might think. Because in the Jewish legal-moral tradition on abortion, the woman's welfare plays an even greater role than NOW [National Organization of Women] would claim. A principle in the Jewish view of the matter is tza'ara d'gufah kadim, that her welfare, avoidance of her pain, comes first. Accordingly, maternal indications for abortion do count where fetal indications do not. (80)

As these initial comments suggest, Feldman wants to take care that the reader understands Jewish perspectives on their own terms, not simply as warrants for a "pro-choice" position supported by more familiar, but more secular notions (e.g., involving rights).  To make this point in a last way, he notes that in Jewish teaching, in contrast with other possible rights arguments, "It's not that the fetus has a right to be born or that the husband has a right to his progeny, but it's the welfare of the mother that is the first, and to some the only, consideration that warrants an abortion." (80)

Within the framework of Jewish teaching, then, the position on abortion rests on a primary concern with the welfare of the mother.  Moreover, this concern is coupled with the fundamental claim that in Jewish teaching,

Abortion is not murder....Abortion cannot be murder in Jewish law, because...murder is one of the three "cardinal" sins that require martyrdom. Rather than commit murder of the innocent, public idolatry or gross sexual immorality [adultery, incest], one has to surrender his own life in martyrdom. All the rest of the Torah is under the category of  ya'avor v'al ye-hareg, "let one transgress rather than die," but not for murder of the innocent. Hence if abortion were declared murder, a mother would not be allowed to have an abortion even to save her life, which is obviously not the case. (80-81)

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II: Biblical and Talmudic sources on abortion: religious definitions of personhood

To begin to make his case, Feldman points out that there is no Commandment reading "Thou shalt not kill": rather, the Commandment reads "Thou shalt not murder." In Judaism (and elsewhere, of course) killing in self-defense is allowed. There are a number of categories of allowable killing in self-defense - including the category "of rodef, the aggressor, who may be killed if that is the only way to stop his pursuit or aggression of a third party." The Talmud considers treating the fetus as a rodef - specifically, "an aggressor against its mother, and making that the reason why abortion to save the mother's life is permitted." But

the Talmud proceeds to reject that reasoning on the obvious grounds that the fetus is not yet of responsible age to deliberately forfeit its protection against being murdered [i.e., by consciously choosing to act as an aggressor, and thereby loosing its protection against killing]. The only valid grounds for permitting even therapeutic abortion is that murder is not involved because the fetus is not yet a human person [ftn. 1: Sanhedrin 72b: David Feldman Birth Control in Jewish Law (New York: New York University Press, 1968), chaps. 14 and 15.] Killing is admittedly involved, but not murder. Killing is the taking of life of, say, an animal or a chicken, or of a human who forfeits his protection by an act of aggression. (81)

This brings us to the central point: the crucial distinction between killing and murder further depends on the definition of the status of the life taken - a definition which Feldman observes is metaphysical and religious, rather than scientific:

And the difference between fetal life and human life is not determined by the biologist or the physician but by the metaphysician. It's the determination of the culture or the religion that declares not when life begins but when life begins to be human. (81)

In keeping with the frequent focus in the abortion debate on the status of the embryo or fetus, Feldman notes that

the abortion question in talmudic law revolves around the legal status of the embryo. For this the Talmud has a phrase, ubbar yerekh immo, which phrase is a counterpart of the Latin pars viscerum matris. That is, the fetus is deemed "a part of its mother," rather than an independent entity. This designation says nothing about the morality of abortion; rather, it defines ownership, for example, in the case of an embryo found in a purchased animal. As intrinsic to its mother's body, it belongs to the buyer. In the religious conversion of a pregnant woman, her unborn child is automatically included and requires no further ceremony. Nor does it have power of acquisition; gifts made on its behalf are not binding. These and similar points mean only that the fetus has no "juridical personality," but say nothing about the right of abortion. This turns rather on whether feticide is or is not homicide. (81-82)

Even given the designation of the embryo / fetus as intrinsic to the mother's body and thereby lacking, we might say, personhood - is feticide, the killing of at least a potential human being the same as homicide?  The biblical books of Exodus and Leviticus (part of the Torah  - teaching, path, law - in Judaism, and canonical "Old Testament" books for Christians), as understood through the Talmud and Rashi (one of the most important Rabbinic authorities), argue that the answer to this question is, "No."  

The law of homicide in the Torah, in one of its formulations, reads: "Makkeh ish..." "He who smites a man..." (Ex. 21:12). Does this include any many, say a day-old child? Yes, says the Talmud, citing another text: "...ki yakkeh kol nefesh adam" "If one smite any nefesh adam" (Lev. 24:17) - literally, any human person. (Whereas we may not be sure that the newborn babe has completed its term and is a bar kayyama, fully viable, until thirty days after birth, he is fully human from the moment of birth. If he dies before his thirtieth day, no funeral or shivah rites are applicable either. But active destruction of a born child of even doubtful viability is here definitely forbidden.) The "any" (kol) is understood to include the day-old child, but the "nefesh adam" is taken to exclude the fetus in the womb. The fetus in the womb, says Rashi, classic commentator on the Bible and Talmud, is lav nefish hu, not a person, until he comes into the world. Feticide, then, does not constitute homicide, and the basis for denying it capital-crime status in Jewish law - even for those rabbis who may have wanted to rule otherwise - is scriptural. Alongside the above text is another one in Exodus that reads: "If men strive, and wound a pregnant woman so that her fruit be expelled, but no harm befall [her], then shall he be fined as her husband shall assess...But if harm befall [her], then shalt thou give life for life" (21:22). The Talmud makes this verse's teaching explicit: Only monetary compensation is exacted of him who causes a woman to miscarry. Note also that though the abortion spoken of here is accidental, it contrasts with the homicide (of the mother) which is also accidental. Even unintentional homicide cannot be expiated by a monetary fine. (82)

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III: Judaism vs. Christianity: Hebrew vs. Greek texts as the source of divergent teachings on abortion

The contrast between Jewish acceptance, even the requirement, of abortion when the life and health of the mother are at stake and the anti-abortion position associated with several Christian communities  - especially where each tradition builds its position on the same canonical texts - raises the question: how did Christianity come diverge so dramatically from Jewish teaching?

Feldman explains this (in part) by describing how the translation of a single word across Jewish and Christian canonical texts led to diametrically opposed moral stances:

The critical text [Exodus 21:22], to begin with, has an alternative version in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible produced in Alexandria in the third pre-Christian century. A change of just one word there yields an entirely different statute on the subject.

Two schools of thought emerge, depending on whether one follows the Hebrew text, as did the religious traditions that emerged as "Judaism" in the 4th ct. C.E. [Common Era = "A.D."] - or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, i.e., the Septuagint used as scripture in the early religious communities that root what becomes "Christianity" in the 4th Ct. C.E. Feldman refers here to Viktor Aptowitzer's analysis of the Exodus passage as translated into the Greek Septuagint:

The school of thought it represents he calls the Alexandrian school, as opposed to the Palestinian - that is, the talmudic [and thus Jewish] - view set forth above. The word in question is ason, rendered here as "harm"; hence," if [there be] harm, then shalt thou give life for life." The Greek renders ason  as form, yielding something like: "If [there be] form, then shalt thou give life for life." The "life for life" clause is thus applied to fetus instead of mother and a distinction is made - as Augustine will formulate it - between embryo informatus  and embryo formatus. For the latter, the text so rendered prescribes the death penalty. [ftn. 6: Feldman, Birth Control in Jewish Law, p. 258]   Among the Church Fathers, the consequent doctrine of feticide as murder was preached by Tertullian, in the second century, who accepted the Septuagint, and by Jerome in the fourth, who did not. Jerome's classic Bible translation renders the passage according to the Hebrew text accepted in the Church. The Didache, a handbook of basic Christianity for the instruction of converts from paganism, follows the Alexandrian teaching and specifies abortion as a capital crime. Closer to the main body of the Jewish community, we find the doctrine accepted by the Samaritans and Karaites and, more importantly, by Philo, the popular first-century philosopher of Alexandria  On the other hand, his younger contemporary Josephus bears witness to the Palestinian (halakhic) tradition. Aside from its textual warrant, this tradition is more authentic than the later tendency, "which, in addition, is not genuinely Jewish but must have originated in Alexandria under Egyptian-Greek influence." [ftn. 7: Viktor Aptowitzer, "Observations on the Criminal Law of the Jews," Jewish Quarterly Review XV (1924), p. 88.]  In the rabbinic tradition, then, abortion remains a noncapital crime at worst. (82-83)

Beyond this contrast between Jewish and Christian teaching, there is a further complication: there is debate, based on a Genesis text - i.e., before Sinai and the giving of the Torah to the Jews - arguing that feticide is a capital crime, but only for non-Jews:

Genesis 9:6 reads: "He who sheds the blood of man, through man [i.e., through the human court of law] shall his blood be shed." Since the "man, through man" (shofekh dam ha' adam ba'adam) can also be rendered "man, in man," the Talmud records the exposition of Rabbi Ishmael: "What is this 'man, in man'? It refers to the fetus in its mother's womb." Being in Genesis - without the qualifying Exodus (Sinaitic) passage - this verse made feticide a capital crime for non-Jews (those not heir to the covenant at Sinai) in Jewish law. Some hold this exposition to be more sociologically than textually inherent, voicing a reaction against abuses among the heathen. In view of rampant abortion and feticide, they claim, Rabbi Ishmael extracted from the Genesis text this judgment against the Romans. [ftn. 8: I. H. Weiss, Dor Dor VeDor'shav (1924), vol. II, p. 21.] [Even though this doctrine remains Jewish law] Therapeutic abortion is not, however, included in this Noahide prohibition; nor is an abortion during the first forty days, according to some. The implications of this anomaly - a different law for the Sons of Noah than for Israel - were addressed in a Responsum of the eighteenth century: "It is not to be supposed that the Torah would consider the embryo as a person [nefesh] / for them [Sons of Noah {i.e., all non-Jews}] but not for us. The fetus is not a person for them either; the Torah was merely more severe in its practical ruling in their regard. Hence, therapeutic abortion would be permissible to them, too." [ftn. 9: Rabbi Isaac Schorr, Responsa Koah Shor, vol. I., no. 20 (dated 1755), p. 21.] (83-84)

In sum,

If abortion is not murder in the rabbinic system, neither is it worse than murder. It is worse than murder in those religious systems concerned with "ensoulment" of the fetus. (84)

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IV: Judaism vs. Christianity: "ensoulment" and Augustine's doctrine of Original Sin

In the effort to resolve the abortion debate, a common Christian move is to argue that human life (as equivalent to moral personhood) begins with "ensoulment," with God's placing an immortal soul in the material body of the fetus.  Diverse Christian views claim that ensoulment occurs at conception, at the end of the first trimester, or at birth: the latter two views, of course, would allow for abortion, while the first view (ensoulment occuring at conception) would (largely) forbid abortion as the moral equivalent of murder.  But the debate over when ensoulment occurs, Feldman points out, is essentially a Christian debate.

From the Jewish standpoint, this [debate] must be declared irrelevant. It's not when does the soul enter, it's what kind of a soul enters? (84)

Judaism and the forms of Christianity shaped by Augustine's doctrine of Original Sin give two very different answers to this question - again resulting in two divergent views on abortion.  The Augustinian doctrine argues that all human beings are born with a soul diseased and distorted by the sin of their primordial parents in the Garden: this further means that

...a tainted soul enters the fetus which must be cleansed by baptism to save him or her from eternal perdition. In line with the doctrine of original sin, each individual soul inherits the taint of its primordial ancestors. When St. Fulgentius of the sixth century was asked when that stain attaches to the person, he replied that it begins with conception. Hence the concern with allowing the fetus to be brought to term so that it can be baptized; otherwise it is condemned to death in both worlds, making abortion clearly worse than murder.

It should be noted that Augustine's doctrine of Original Sin represents a dramatic turn from earlier Christian and Jewish understandings of the second Genesis creation story, and corresponding conceptions of sin and the human soul (for a summary, see Ess, "Reading Adam and Eve: Re-Visions of the Myth of Woman's Subordination to Man," in: Violence Against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook , edited by Marie M. Fortune and Carol J. Adams. New York: Continuum Press, 1995.)  In any case, given the acceptance of the Augustinian doctrine in Roman Catholic and much of (western) Protestant Christianities, the strict prohibition against abortion is perfectly consistent:

It must accordingly be said that when Catholics reputedly decide to "let the mother die" rather than allow an abortion, they are not at all being cruel, merely consistent with a logical concern. The mother has been presumably baptized as an infant; let her die and "go to her reward." But let the child be brought to term and baptized and saved from perdition. So sincere is this concern that theologians at the Sorbonne in the nineteenth century invented a baptismal syringe, wherewith to baptize a fetus in utero in the event of a spontaneous abortion, a miscarriage. [ftn. 10: St. Fulgentius, De Fide  27, cited by E. Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1908), vol. I, pp. 416-17. On the use of the Syringe in baptism, see H. W. Haggard, Devils, Drugs and Doctors  (New York, 1929), p. 4.] (84)

[John T. Noonan, representing the Catholic perspective in these materials, insists that Christian opposition to abortion has nothing to do with ensoulment or concerns regarding infant baptism.]

As with the debate over ensoulment, the debate over original sin remains a debate within Christian communities. Judaism preserves the earlier Jewish and pre-Augustinian understanding of the Garden story as a story about individual sinfulness - sinfulness which can be atoned for and overcome by individuals.  Judaism thereby squarely rejects the Augustinian teaching - that the soul emplaced in the fetus is already diseased with a sinful nature inherited by all human beings. Accordingly, the especially Catholic sense of urgency regarding the baptism of the fetus otherwise condemned is

...a concern that the Jewish community cannot share. Having no such concept of original sin, we recite daily in our prayers something that comes directly from the Talmud: "My God, the soul with which thou hast endowed me is pure." We inherit a pure soul, which becomes contaminated only by our own misdeeds. By that token, early abortion would send a fetus to heaven in a state of pristine purity! (84)

Moreover, Judaism finds the debate over the time of ensoulment to be as irresoluble as it appears to be in Christian circles - but responds to the debate differently:

While the Talmud does discuss the time of ensoulment - is it when the child is conceived, or at the first trimester, at birth or, as one opinion has it, when the child first answers Amen? - but then dismisses the question as both unanswerable and irrelevant to the abortion question. [ftn. 11: Sanhedrin 110b; Yalkut to Psalms, no. 689.] (84)

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V: Jewish doctrine on abortion: allowable, even required, when the life of the mother is at stake

Given that abortion does not equate to murder - in the case of threat to the mother's life, abortion becomes a requirement:

Since the mother is not allowed to choose suicide, abortion in that extreme case becomes mandatory. This is the sense of the fundamental passage in the Talmud bearing on the subject. The Mishna (Oholot 7,6) puts it this way:
"If a woman has [life-threatening] difficulty in childbirth, the embryo within her must be dismembered limb by limb [if necessary], because her life [hayyeha] takes precedence over its life [yayyav]. Once its head (or its greater part) has emerged, it may not be touched, for we may not set aside one life [nefesh] for another."

The justification for abortion then is that before the child emerges we do not yet have a nefesh. The life of the fetus is only potential, and that cannot compete with actual human life. (84-85)

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VI: "Choose life!"? Two traditions, two interpretations 

A clear divergence emerges, then, between Judaism, as it holds to the Hebrew Bible as understood through the rabbinic traditions crystalized in the Talmud, and those Christianities dependent upon a Greek (mis)translation of the Hebrew Bible and Augustine's radical revision of the second Genesis creation story.  Not surprisingly, these two faith traditions read the same Bible differently in other ways.  Feldman reports a discussion he had with a Catholic woman, who argued

"Well, the Bible says, 'Therefore, choose life.' Since abortion is the killing of life, how can you allow it?" "Because," I replied," when you see 'choose life' in the Bible and when we [Jews] see 'choose life' in the Bible, we are both seeing different things. From a Catholic standpoint, which is essentially other-worldly in orientation, you see 'life' as life in the next world. Otherwise, why would you ever allow the death of the mother? That, too, is taking life. Yet, you feel that the mother, having already been baptized, can 'choose life' in the next world. But when we see those words, we think of life in this world, and that's why we strive to save the mother, to save existing life. How do I know this? Because the Talmud gives the rationale for the principle that 'saving life sets aside all else in the Torah,' that the Sabbath and even Yom Kippur must be violated in order to protect or preserve life or health. The rationale is simple: 'Violate [for the patient] this Sabbath, so that he will be able to keep many Sabbaths.' In other words, we want to 'choose life' here on earth, and a therapeutic abortion is therefore indicated, even mandated." (85)

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VII: Further considerations in Jewish teaching: "left" and "right" debates over the circumstances of allowable and necessary abortions

Feldman goes on to note that the Talmud considered justifying abortion on the view that the fetus is a rodef, an aggressor, where killing an aggressor (if necessary) is justified in order to save the intended victim. But the Talmud further considers the possibility that it is the mother who is the aggressor - i.e., when "The life-threatening impasse could be the result of a narrow cervix, or any physiological condition of the mother which makes continuation of the pregnancy a threat to her life." (86) This, in turn, is rejected:

If the condition is the mother's, how is the child the pursuer? Rather, says the Talmud, "she is being pursued from Heaven." That is, the pursuit is an "act of God," desired or intended neither by mother or child. The argument is therefore inadmissible and, in any case, unnecessary: it's simply that the fetus is not yet a person with equal title to life. (86)

Maimonides nonetheless uses the rodef  analogy in his summary of the Law Code, to articulate what Feldman characterizes as the conservative view of abortion in Judaism:

"This, too, is a [negative] Commandment: Not to take pity on the life of a pursuer. Therefore the Sages ruled that when a woman has difficulty in giving birth, one dismembers the fetus in her womb - either with drugs or by surgery - because it is like a pursuer seeking to kill her. Once its head has emerged, it may not be touched, for we may not set aside one life for another; this is the natural course of the world." [ftn. 13: Feldman, Birth Control in Jewish Law , pp. 275ff.]

While abortion is acknowledged as killing, there is a crucial difference between killing and murder. As an example, Feldman reports the judgment of Rabbi Issar Unterman, late Chief Rabbi of Israel, who was "firmly opposed to abortion except under extreme circumstances." (86) While he calls it "akin to murder," he also relates the situation of a Jewish girl impregnated by a German soldier in WW I. He took her to a physician for an abortion.

The physician, who was Jewish, declined to perform the abortion, insisting it was against his principles. The soldier then drew his gun and threatened the doctor: either you abort or I will shoot you. Rabbi Unterman declared that, had he been asked the question by the doctor he would have told him to abort. If abortion were really murder, the doctor would have had to martyr himself, to lay down his life rather than comply. Much as I would like to call it murder, he said in effect, the clear sense of the Jewish law is that it is not. (86)

Feldman then comments:

Rabbi Unterman stood squarely in the tradition of Maimonides and, in fact, all rabbinic teaching on the subject of abortion can be said to align itself with either Maimonides, on the right, or with Rashi, on the left. The "rightist" approach begins with the assumption, formulated by Unterman, that abortion is "akin to murder" and therefore allowable only in cases of corresponding gravity, such as saving the life of the mother. The approach then builds down from that strict position to embrace a broader interpretation of life-saving situations. These include a threat to her health, for example, and perhaps a threat to her sanity in terms of suicidal possibilities, but excludes any lesser reasons. The more "liberal" approach, based on Rashi's affirmation that the fetus is not a human person, is associated with another former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ben Zion Uziel. [ftn. 15: Responsa, Mishpetei Uziel, vol. III, Hoshen Mishpat, no. 47.] This approach assumes that no real prohibition against abortion exists and builds up from that ground to safeguard against indiscriminate or unjustified thwarting of potential life. This school of thought includes the example of Rabbi Yair Bachrach in the seventeenth century, whose classic Responsum saw no legal bar to abortion but would not permit it in the case before him.[ftn. 16: Responsa Havvot Yair, no. 31.] The case was of a pregnancy conceived in adultery; the woman "in deep remorse," wanted to destroy the fruit of her sin. The Responsum concludes by refusing to sanction abortion, not on legal grounds, but on sociological ones, as a safeguard against further immorality. (87)

[And even here, there are still more liberal opinions - i.e., those of Rabbi Jacob Emden, who disagreed with this ruling, affirming instead that "the woman's welfare" included not only life and health, but also the avoidance of "great pain." (87)]

While there is thus disagreement over the circumstances which justify an abortion, the central moral argument - stressing the life, health, and wel-being of the mother - is not debated, but shared:

Maternal rather than fetal indications are the rule for both schools of thought. The rightist position certainly considers only the mother, but so does the leftist one. The latter school includes even the mother's less than life-and-death welfare, expressed in the words "great pain," and based on the principle that tza'ara d'gufah kadim [i.e., the teaching that her welfare, avoidance of her pain, comes first: see p. 80]. (87)

Feldman then summarizes what he takes to be the distilled teachings of Rabbinic rulings on abortion, using the example of a woman who had German measles or took Thalidomide during the pregnancy. If she were to request an abortion because she feared that the child might be deformed, the request would be refused: we do not know that the child will be deformed, "And if so, how do you know that such a condition is worse for him than not being born?" (88) But if she were to say that the possibility of the child being born deformed caused her extreme mental anguish, her rabbi would rule differently:

Now the fetal indication has become a maternal indication, and all the considerations for her welfare are now brought to bear. The fetus is unknown, future, potential, part of the "secrets of God"; the mother is known, present, human and seeking compassion. (88)

While there is thus a spectrum of Jewish positions regarding abortion (though not to the degree found among Christians, i.e., as a significant number of Christians oppose abortion on any grounds), Feldman goes on to point out that Judaism holds a "starkly illiberal" consensus regarding neonatal defectives. Here it is strongly "right to life":

From the moment of birth, the life of the infant is as inviolate as that of the mother. Its right to life is then absolute. Before birth, however, right to life is not the applicable concept; it is "right to be born." The right to be born is not absolute, but relative to the welfare of the mother. There is no right to be born any more than a right to be conceived. Use of the "right to life" slogan by antiabortion people is therefore essentially misleading. (89)

This further means a resolute rejection of any distinction between the life of the mother and the life of the child in terms of "quality of life":

...we reject any considerations of relative quality; all existing life is equally precious; the operative slogan is rather "sanctity of life." From the moment of its birth, the life of the newborn is sacred, as indivisibly and undifferentially sacred as that of the mother. This is the true "right to life" position. Whereas "right to be born" is relative to the welfare of the mother, "right to life" is not relative to the mother's or anyone's welfare. Right to life means that no person need apologize for living, neither to parents, to physicians, to society, or to self. (89)

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VIII: Concluding comments: liberty and conscience - limits on abortion, limits on laws

Despite the warrant for abortion under specific circumstances, Feldman emphasizes that

...abortion retains its stigma and remains a last resort. Procreation is a positive mitzvah [commandment], and potential life has the sanctity of its potential. The Talmud, in fact, uses the dreaded word "murder" in a figurative, hyperbolic sense even in connection with not conceiving. Bachelors or the couple who decline to conceive are called "guilty of bloodshed" for their sin of omission. Procreation is a desideratum as well as a mitzvah, and casual abortion is accordingly abhorrent. There may be legal and moral sanction for abortion where necessary, but the attitude remains one of solemn hesitation in the presence of the sanctity of life and of a pronatalist respect for new life. Accordingly, abortion for "population control" is repugnant to the Jewish mind. Abortion for economic reasons is also not admissible. Taking precaution by abortion or contraception against physical threat to the mother remains a mitzvah, but not so as to forestall financial difficulty. Material considerations or career concerns are simply improper in this connection, especially in view of the readiness of others to adopt or nurture. A degree of brutalization is scarcely avoidable in the destruction of even potential life or in the rejection of a precious gift of God. But when the reasons for considering abortion are nonetheless overwhelming, the right to do so remains hers after all. (89-90)

Given this position, Feldman concludes by broaching something of the religious liberties argument for abortion. While the Jewish community shares the characteristically Christian affirmation of life and opposes simple abortion on demand, it further affirms

...the pluralistic concern for individual liberty. Some contemporary rabbis welcome the strong stand of antiabortion groups, and regard the leniencies of traditional Jewish law as either too subtle or too dangerous for broad consumption. Others see the right of choice as inherent in the Jewish treatment of the subject, and stress the noncapital nature of the offense. Either way, it is important that reverence for life be affirmed as a religious imperative, but that political candidates or parties not be allowed to equate abortion with murder and prochoice people with murderers or outlaws. Murder is a fundamental evil that no civilized society should tolerate, but abortion can be understood in more than one way; the right to it under circumstances consistent with conscience should not be compromised or unduly stigmatized. (90) ²

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Robert Cavalier, Carnegie Mellon and Charles Ess, Drury College