To hear the reactions of certain liberal Jewish organizations in the wake of the decision of the United States Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the federal statutory ban on partial birth abortion, one might be misled into thinking that Jewish law (halacha) permits this heinous procedure, or even sanctions "reproductive choice" (the liberal code phrase for abortion on demand) in general. In an opinion column in The Forward, entitled "Misusing Judaism in the Service of Roe," Rabbi Avi Shafran, the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a leading Orthodox Jewish advocacy organization (photo right), sets the record straight on both points.
Responding to a communication from a professor who tried to argue that the statute upheld in Gonzales v. Carhart offended the concept in Jewish law of primacy of the mother's life over fetal life, Rabbi Shafran notes:
The professor is correct about Jewish religious law’s placement of the life of a Jewish mother before that of her unborn child. The Jewish legal metaphor for the fetus is a “rodef,” or “pursuer” — someone in the act of threatening a life, thereby forfeiting all rights to legal protection. But the professor, like many others who reacted with outrage to the Supreme Court’s ruling, had several facts about the particular case in question very wrong.
If a mother’s health is endangered during labor, even a late-term fetus can be legally dispatched in utero; it need never be partially extracted alive and then killed. What is more, the partial-birth abortion law contains an explicit exception in a case — if, in fact, any exists — where a physician feels it necessary to kill a partially emerged baby to save its mother’s life.
But beyond all that, my correspondent had simply not comprehended the most salient aspect of the procedure at issue: The baby has been born.
At least that is how Jewish religious law — which was what the professor invoked — views a baby 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,” in the federal law’s words.
The distortion of the Torah view of abortion stems largely from decades of public relations efforts by organizations such as the Reform Jewish movement (which has sometimes been described as the Democratic Party with holidays) and the American Jewish Congress to misrepresent traditional Jewish teachings concerning abortion, both to the Jewish community and the non-Jewish world. Rabbi Shafran observes:
They insist on viewing the world through a tunnel called “Roe,” and are not beyond misrepresenting Judaism in the service of their myopia.
The Summer 2003 issue of Hadassah Magazine, to take one example, quotes unnamed authorities to maintain that Jewish law “implicitly assumes that a woman has the right to make her own reproductive choices.” The supplement’s “Jewish Law” section goes on to claim that “restricting access to reproductive services… undermines basic tenets of Judaism.” None of this is true.
Rabbi Shafran goes on to provide an excellent summary of the Torah-true perspective on abortion. Thank you, Rabbi Shafran, for helping to dispel the carnard promoted for too long by so-called "progressive" or "liberal" Jewish groups, that the Torah freely permits abortion.