Does Judaism Permit Abortion? Depends Who You Ask.

By Arielle Silver-Willner

Recent threats to abortion access in the U.S. have provoked national discourse regarding reproductive justice–What does it mean? Whom does it affect? How can it be implemented? These questions have extended to Jewish communities, and create the opportunity for lively, comprehensive discussions. 

Addressing both Jewish tradition and the current sociopolitical climate, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) hosted a panel this July in Manhattan to address these questions among others. In Orthodox communities, the subject of reproduction is often governed by the halachic law, which instructs Jews to “be fruitful and multiply.” Thus, contraception and abortion are somewhat contentious subjects. However, the JOFA panelists– professor of Judaic Studies Dr. Elana Stein Hain, lawyer Gail Katz, and ObGyn Dr. Susan Lobel– seemed to agree that, at the very least, safe and legal abortion should be available if the pregnant person’s life is at risk. Stein Hain explained that Jewish texts declare the pregnant woman’s life “takes precedence over the life of the fetus.” Thus, clearly, Judaism does accept the termination of a pregnancy in certain circumstances. What these circumstances are, however, is less clear. Laughing, Stein Hain noted, “in true Jewish fashion, [it] depends who you ask.”