Women's Lives Are in Danger

The Supreme Court has voted to uphold the Federal Abortion Ban, and it is a sad and scary day in America (we’re having a lot of those this week). You can actually read the decision in its entirety here. The most detrimental feature of the decision from a legal perspective is likely to be the precedent it sets NOT to make any exceptions for the health of the woman. This is a particularly important in light of halakhic rules that require us to place a high value on the woman’s health in such cases. For more on the Supreme Court Decision, check out Feminist Majority, The National Council of Jewish Women and NOW. Read Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Dissent, which she took the rare step of reading aloud to the Court. Although Justice Bader Ginsburg’s move was derided as “politically greedy” in some right-wing blogs, we see it as a powerful example of a Jewish woman who refuses to shut her mouth in the face of injustice.

Lilith has been covering issues of choice for over 25 years. We invite you to download and read one such article: “Is Abortion Murder? Jews and Christians Will Answer Differently” by Leila Bronner from our Winter 1997-98 issue.

Please post your comments or thoughts below, or feel free to send them to Lilith’s blog moderator, Mel Weiss.

Update: We’re Not Giving Up
Despite the discouraging vote by the Supreme Court, we’re not giving up so easily. The JTA has just reported that groups are revving up to fight the ruling (check out the quote from Lilith’s own Susan Weidman Schneider).

In a show of amazing timing, the Freedom of Choice Act has been reintroduced. (Read the ACLU’s press release.) The bill has been reintroduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D – NY) and–no surprise here–Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

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4 comments on “Women's Lives Are in Danger

  1. Safiyyah on

    While I believe that “exceptions for the health of a woman” should be made by a doctor and the patient, I think partial birth abortion is disgusting. What about the baby’s rights? Many women would give anything to adopt a healthy baby.

  2. Rabbi Avi Shafran on


    Rabbi Avi Shafran

    The U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act has elicited the usual cries of protest from abortion rights advocates and, also as usual, they include an assortment of Jewish groups and The New York Times.

    That latter institution characterized the term “partial-birth abortion” itself as a “provocative label” for the presumably more descriptive “intact dilation and extraction.” As it happens, The Times (and the other advocates) are correct about the inaccuracy of the term “partial birth abortion,” but not because it exaggerates the repugnance of the procedure in question.

    Despite concerted efforts by some to misrepresent the law, its language is stark and clear. It prohibits any overt act, like the puncturing of the brain, “that the person knows will kill” a fetus whose “entire… head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother.”

    Thus, it is not abortion at all that the law at issue addresses, but rather the killing of a baby whose head or most of whose body has emerged into the world. Readers of The Times’ editorial page, and much of the “mainstream” media, might be forgiven for not realizing what the procedure actually entails.

    Nor have the media done a very good job explaining what exemptions the law does or does not contain. Since it does not contain an exemption for the mother’s “health,” there is wide assumption (at least from the evidence of calls and e-mails I have received) that even if the mother’s life were somehow threatened by allowing the partially emerged infant to fully emerge, the federal prohibition would stand. In fact, though, the law contains an explicit exception for cases where the procedure is deemed necessary to preserve the mother’s life. As to a “health” exemption, the Supreme Court’s majority found, among other things, that if there is any threat to maternal health (a possibility about which no medical consensus exists), “safe alternatives to the prohibited procedure… are available.”

    Even more troubling to me, as a Jew, than the misunderstandings of the facts is that a number of rabbis and Jewish organizational spokespeople have asserted that Jewish religious tradition is somehow offended by the recently upheld law. The president of Hadassah, to take one example, has baldly stated that the law “undermines Jewish values.”

    She and others who have made similar claims are misinformed, and in turn misinform.

    To be sure, the Talmudic sources are clear that the life of a Jewish woman whose pregnancy endangers her takes precedence over that of her unborn when there is no way to preserve both lives. (That is why Agudath Israel, while we oppose Roe v. Wade’s effective “abortion on demand,” has not and would never favor a wholesale ban on abortion.) And, while the matter is not free from controversy, there are rabbinic opinions that allow abortion when the pregnancy seriously jeopardizes the mother’s health. But those narrow exceptions do not translate into some unlimited “mother’s right” to “make her own reproductive choices” – the position Hadassah enthusiastically trumpets.

    Moreover, in the specific context of “intact dilation and extraction” – to use The Times’ preferred nomenclature – Jewish law certainly confers no right to kill a live baby whose head, or most of whose body, has already emerged. Indeed, once birth has already occurred, Jewish law makes clear, the newborn child has no less right to live than does the mother. Stated simply, what the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act prohibits is, in the eyes of Jewish law, little if anything short of murder.

    Nothing, of course, prevents a Jew, or Jewish organization or rabbi, from ignoring the teachings of the Jewish religious tradition.

    But intellectual integrity, if nothing else, should prevent anyone from misrepresenting the content of a law, or what Jewish tradition has to say about killing an unborn child, or a born one.

    — Jewish Telegraphic Agency

  3. Anonymous on

    In 1989 when I worked for the National Abortion Rights Action League, in the Florida affiliate, we had an expression. “WHEN THEY CAN’T MAKE IT ILLEGAL, THEY WILL MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE.” What about the women who wants a child but it has died in utero? They will have to carry to term?

    –Shelley Anckner

  4. Di Freye Froy on

    I am not a scientist, or a lawyer, or a rabbi, so I won’t comment here about d&x/d&e, stare decisis or halakha. But I am a writer and an editor, an amateur semantician and a true lover of words, so let me say only this: the terms of this debate are important. The way language is wielded is vital. I am intrigued–and, frequently, disgusted–by the use of “baby”, “infant”, “child” and a few other choice words when, of course, what everyone means to say is “fetus”. Abortion in America is illegal past the point of viability, which is to say, when the fetus becomes a child, albeit an unborn one. This doesn’t make anything less messy, less wrenching, or less necessary. Abortion is not a morally black and white issue, but rather than commit to working through the ambiguity–the most Jewish thing in the world–many choose to frame the debate in imprecise, incorrect language. The rabbis knew that splitting linguistic hairs was valuable. Why would we now choose to paint with such broad strokes?

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