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Jewish tradition ‘permits’ abortion. If you believe in bodily autonomy, that’s not enough.

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(JTA) — Last week, Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz responded to the draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, “A woman’s rights over her own body are hers alone.”

It might seem odd that the Israeli health minister was commenting on American abortion law, but his response, contained in a tweet, addresses a theme common to the abortion discussion in Israel and America that I research as an ethicist and scholar of reproduction among Jews.

In the 1970s, the Israeli Knesset debated the legalization of abortion. After several years of discussions, it ultimately passed a law that permitted abortion in certain circumstances: 1) If a woman is younger than 17 or older than 40; 2) when pregnancy results from rape, incest or extra-marital relations; 3) under the possibility that the baby will be born with a physical or mental deformity; and 4) when the continuation of the pregnancy could endanger a woman’s life or mental health. This law allows for certain abortions to be performed until the 39th week of pregnancy.

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When I teach Americans about abortion law in Israel, they often express shock that Israel seems much more progressive than America. That’s because their frame of reference for religion and abortion is a particular strain of American anti-abortion Christianity. My students — college-aged and adult, Jewish or not — are surprised to see a country so strongly influenced by religion that is not opposed to abortion.


© The Jewish Week

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