Rabbi Bonnie Margulis explains Jewish thinking about abortion rights in a post on rhrealitycheck that is “must reading” for anyone wanting to respond to the distorted and inaccurate information that has been circulating.
In case you missed it, Religion News Service disseminated an article about a Jewish crisis pregnancy group that mischaracterized Jewish views on abortion, specifically by suggesting there is a “divide” in the community (actually, 40% of American Jews believe abortion should be legal in all cases and an additional 44% believe abortion should be legal in most cases) and that Judaism “prohibits” abortion (actually, abortion is not only permitted, it is sometimes mandated to save the life of the woman). While Jews greatly value the potential life of the fetus, it cannot take precedence over the existing life of the woman.
Rabbi Margulis writes that there are three major Jewish teachings on the issue of abortion:
The first is the explicit Jewish teaching on the issue of abortion (Mishnah, Oholot 7.6):
If a woman has (life-threatening) difficulty in childbirth, one dismembers the embryo within her, limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over its life. Once its head has emerged, it may not be touched, for we do not set aside one life for another.
The second is the integrity of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom from government interference.
The third deals with the social and economic imbalances and injustice in our society that both makes abortion necessary and so often makes it inaccessible to those who need it, I believe we are commanded by God, the prophets and our own moral consciences to speak out to ensure justice and freedom of choice for all women everywhere.
And she concludes with a thought that should be of interest to all of us:
When Jews advocate for reproductive freedom, we are pursuing justice for women and seeking peace among the diverse religious communities of this country. And this is truly holy work.
If you’d like to learn more about Jewish views on this subject, please see http://www.rcrc.org/pdf/jewish_perspectives.pdf