A reader, Sarah, wrote…
The Jewish people are facing a critical situation with Iran. In such times would we be close minded to ANY suggestion on what we can do to ease the birthpangs of the geulah? I hope that someone will read this and actually give it thought. What is right and true take to your heart and what is wrong let it go, but think about it with an open searching mind. Maybe it will be of help, or maybe it will inspire other thoughts that will be of help. In any case that is my intention in writing this.
Recently the House of the (U.S.) State of Virginia passed a bill declaring that unborn humans from the moment of conception have equal legal human rights as born humans .
Is this halachically acceptable? What are the possible ramifications of this bill and other extreme pro-life positions being taken by the Republicans?
Women in the USA can look to Central and South America to see what the future potentially holds. Ipas is a women's advocacy group located in Nigeragua (sic). This is from their website:
In her fourth month of pregnancy, 18-year-old Jazmina sought emergency care at a public hospital in Managua, Nicaragua, on Oct. 31, 2006, just one week after the Nicaraguan legislature had voted to ban all abortions. Although she was feverish, bleeding and in severe pain, her doctors had no imaging technology to confirm a miscarriage — and intervening without such proof, even to save the patient’s life, could mean years of imprisonment. Thirty-six hours later, after undergoing two hospital transfers and, finally, ultrasound testing that revealed a detached placenta, Jazmina was taken to the operating room for an emergency cesarean section. But it was too late: Her uterus had already filled with blood, and she went into fatal septic shock. Several days after her simple hillside burial, Jazmina’s distraught husband reflected on the tragedy, saying: “Now I've lost not just our baby, but my whole family.”
It is all too easy to dismiss this as "feminist pro-choice propaganda". Furthermore it's all too easy to dismiss the case of one woman when comparing her to millions of unborn babies aborted every year. But what is the halacha? To the best of my knowledge the halacha is that we don't force women to die in the throes of a life threatening pregnancy. But maybe I am mistaken.
From Newsweek online:
Hermain Cain said Oct. 30, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” broadcast, that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. That followed earlier remarks on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” which drew attacks from his rivals when he said abortion should be illegal, but it may be a family’s or mother’s decision what to do.
‘100 Percent Pro-Life’
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum similarly supports a no-exceptions approach, and has said he favors prosecuting doctors who perform abortions.
When asked whether she supports exceptions during a June 13 Republican presidential primary debate, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann said she is “100 percent pro-life” and that “the very few cases that deal with those exceptions are the very tiniest of fraction of cases and yet they get all the attention.”
Is it emet or sheker to say you are pro-life except for "the very tiniest of a fraction" of dead women?
Perhaps Newsweek is a leftwing website and therefore easily dismissed but meanwhile the House of the State of Virginia just passed a bill declaring that zygotes have the same human rights as any other human. Maybe that is important. Maybe we should speak out, say something. Maybe this matters. Or maybe not. What is the halacha?
I realize there are many sincere and goodhearted people who consider themselves to be pro-life. But beware. Evil is like a tick that attaches itself to Good and then draws blood. If we ignore it it just gets bigger and bigger. It needs to be cut off. The pro-life movement is very good up until the point when it starts minimizing women's deaths .
The kabbalists refer to the Presence of Hashem on this earth as the Shekina, the Female. If you want to manifest the Female on this earth pay attention to the female on this earth.
Pay attention to what is happening with women as if it matters, because it does.
Reb Akiva replies…
The US Federal Government just "discovered" and mandated a Constitutional right to FREE contraceptive medical services for all female citizens of the United States of America. The courts previously determined a right to reproductive control for every woman basically without limit right up until the moment of birth. Regardless of any recently passed state law, clearly the national understanding since the 60's is that full control of the reproductive process remains in the hands of the individual woman - regardless of her age (as free contraceptives are being provided to 13 year old girls in public schools – without parental permission).
In halacha, a pregnancy that is risking the life of the mother is considered a rodef, one who pursues another to kill them. As such, a pregnancy in such a condition may be terminated. That said, nowadays when pregnancies get to the stage that they cause such problems is is often possible to deliver and permit the premature baby to survive. Therefore a pregnancy that can be delivered (rather than aborted) to save the life of the mother may require that alternative (even though it would risk life or damage to the early delivered baby). An expert rabbinical authority should be consulted in such situations.
Of course we face a strange dichotomy in US law nowadays where it's possible to abort up until birth yet premature babies as young as 22 weeks have survived. While halacha does not consider an unborn fetus to be equal to a full human life, neither does it permit casual discarding of fetuses, termination of pregnancy due to inconvenience, and certainly not the termination of viable fetuses when there is no unusual risk to the health of the mother (issues regarding, G-d forbid, rape, incest, under-age pregnancy, etc, also require consultation with an expert rabbinic authority).
In the West, women's reproductive rights are not at risk. It's the freest in the world and consistently held to maximize the woman’s advantage. Even minor inconveniences and parental or male influence are regularly defeated by the courts, even when passed by State legislatures.
However, the results of this attitude and approach to society as a whole are very significant. All cohabitive activity may take place without concern, without responsibility, without affect. Indulge in whatever urges come your way and TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY. There's no negative consequences beyond a quick trip to the clinic or the taking of a morning-after pill.
The societal implications of complete reproductive control on a personal level without any moral or religious context are serious, yet there's a continual push to take it even further.
In the current U.S. and Western societal environment you can be absolutely certain that the Virginia law will be declared unconstitutional. And yes, it does violate Jewish religious law. But the pendulum is far on the other side right now.
This right here: "The societal implications of complete reproductive control on a personal level without any moral or religious context are serious, yet there's a continual push to take it even further."
That's a false dichotomy. A woman may have a degree of sovereignty over her own body AND allegiance to Hashem. But if the people who represent Hashem do not speak up about little unimportant things like rape, forced impregnation, forced childbirth, forced abortion and forced maternal death then no wonder so many people choose to "do their own thing".
As far as the pendulum being the other way yeah it's a big problem but that still doesn't make it right for us as Jews to say nothing when people declare fertilized eggs fully human. Why do you think pendulums shift? Because of extremism. People can speak out about BOTH left wing and right wing extremism. But we don't so it becomes choose your sides.
Reb Akiva replies…
What??? How did we move from a discussion of abortion limits to “rape, forced impregnation, forced childbirth, forced abortion and forced maternal death”???
That is a classic absolutist and propagandist response. The Jewish position is neither – the life of the mother comes first but a fetus can’t be discarded due to inconvenience. Special situations (such as rape) have special answers.
Women are not dying in the U.S. or Israel due to lack of access to abortions. But millions of pregnancies are casually occurring and being discarded due to ridiculously easy and inexpensive access.
No consequences, no moral limitations, no societal limitations, no religious limitations…is not the right answer.