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What Jewish Law Really Says About Abortion

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Alabama and Georgia have passed laws recently that limit or forbid abortions in unprecedented ways, joining a growing number of states that are attempting to dramatically restrict abortion access.

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During these charged times, it is appropriate for the Jewish community to remind ourselves that halakha (Jewish law) has a nuanced view of abortion.

It seems that many in the Orthodox Jewish community have not been overly worried by these and other efforts to curtail legal abortion. Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator who identifies as an Orthodox Jew, has long been a loud voice in favor of government-imposed restrictions on abortion. He has cheered the recent state level bans in print, on social media and in his podcasts. He argues that Judaism is in the “pro-life” political camp, as opposed to “pro-choice.”

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But in America, the pro-life narrative is largely articulated by the Christian right, and there are important differences between how Judaism and Christianity view the span of time between conception and birth.

Earlier this year, New York state significantly eased its restrictions on abortions after 24 weeks (often called “late term abortion,” which carries ideological baggage and is preferred on the right). This makes it far more feasible for a woman to have a life-saving abortion, or an abortion of a genetically anomalous fetus, later in pregnancy. Importantly, the law does not allow for abortions after 24 weeks without a medical justification. Many of these abortions are fully in line with Jewish law but previously had been more legally questionable.

Both the Rabbinical Council of America and Agudath Yisrael, large organizations that represent Orthodox Jewish communities, condemned the decision because it allowed for “abortion on demand,” in the O.U.’s words, before 24 weeks.

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However, both organizations also support, as the RCA explained, “the part of the law that permits abortion, even at a late stage, when the mother’s life is at risk.”

Agudath Yisrael similarly wrote that it “opposes initiatives that would make abortion unlawful even in situations where termination of pregnancy is mandated by religious law … However, it is not necessary to make all abortions permissible in order to protect the rare instance when abortion is truly indicated.”

“Late term” abortion is not a medical term, but rather the political designation used by abortion opponents for cases where the procedure is done after 24 weeks — the point in pregnancy when a generic fetus is potentially capable........

© Haaretz