Saturday, June 18, 2005

Resources Concerning Abortion, Stem Cell Research and End-of-Life Issues

There are numerous resources on this issue.

The Hebrew Bible makes clear that abortion is not murder. The proof-text is Ex. 21:22...

"22 ¶ And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine." If it were seen as murder, there would be a much more severe penalty.

Abortion is not only permitted under Jewish religious law (Halakha), sometimes it is required. In Jewish law (even older than Catholic canon law) human life begins at birth, not conception. Therefore abortion is not murder. Under Jewish law, the mother's life and health take precedence over the fetus. Under Catholic canon law, the fetus takes precedence over the mother (I read the novel "The Cardinal" when I was a kid).

There is more than one valid religious viewpoint on the issue. For most Jews, being pro-choice is a religious obligation. This is not the same as being pro-abortion. I don't know a single pro-choicer who thinks that abortions are wonderful and that everyone should have them. We just want to be able to make our own decisions concerning our bodies, in consultation with our spouses or partners, our physicians and our clergy. We don't want politicians making those very personal decisions for us. Jewish physicians who are willing to perform abortions are not in it for the money but rather because keeping abortion safe and legal is a religious obligation.

My goal is to find issues on which sane pro-lifers and pro-choicers can work together (better and more accurate sex education [common sense as well as abstinence], access to safe and effective contraception, reduction of unintended pregancies, reduction of STDs, elimination of poverty, access to adequate healthcare [including prenatal care], premarital counseling etc... ) and work together on those issues to reduce the number of abortions needed as well as the number performed.

Let me tell you a couple of stories...

I have a friend who is a religious and active Christian with a husband and children. In her younger days she had an abortion. If I remember correctly, she was raped while medically incompetent and her family arranged the abortion. She is ardently pro-choice.

I have another friend who was raised as a strict New England Presbyterian. Her grandmother died as the result of an illegal abortion. She, too, is ardently pro-choice.

Some Christians have, as a religious obligation, protested at abortion clinics. I have, as a religious obligation, escorted clinic patients past the protestors.

Top Liberal Lobbyist Calls For Reduction In Abortions
By Ori Nir in The Forward, June 24, 2005

WASHINGTON — A leading Jewish defender of reproductive rights is calling on religious and political liberal leaders to launch a public campaign to reduce the number of abortions performed in the United States each year.

David Saperstein, the director of Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center and the movement's top Washington lobbyist, is pressing for a campaign to cut the number of abortions in half in the next two years. He told the Forward that such a campaign would help liberals "take back the moral high ground" on the issue, while creating common ground between liberals and conservatives on the most divisive issue in American politics.

"A lot of people in middle America, who are swing voters between liberal and conservative candidates, believe in a woman's right to choose, yet have a problem with the high number of abortions here," said Saperstein, arguably the organized Jewish community's most influential liberal in Washington. He added: "I happen to think that the liberal pro-choice community has a better argument on this issue, and it has needlessly given up the argument to the pro-life forces on the right."


This article is no longer online.

Spring 2003, Vol. 31, No. 3
page 10
Notes from the Underground: A Rabbinic Resister Reflects on the Era When Abortion Was a Crime in America
by Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin
While rummaging through his papers from 1970, Rabbi Maslin comes across a thank-you note and is reminded of his work with the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancy (CCS) in Chicago at a time when abortion was illegal in the U.S. He relates the story of the letter-writer, a distressed young woman who, along with her boyfriend, came to him for counsel, in light of the current political realities which threaten to end pro-choice in America.

The ban on abortion is not absolute
By Shahar Ilan in Ha'aretz

Ostensibly, it is a well-known fact that halakha (Jewish religious law) objects to abortions, even if the infant that will be born will have a severe illness or be mentally retarded. For that reason, many religiously observant parents do not undergo genetic testing. If such tests were done and there was a chance of a baby being born with a serious illness, they would not abort.

But, is that really halakha? An article that appears in the latest volume of the halakhic journal, Tehumin, argues to the contrary: "Most poskim [halakhic arbiters] in our generation have permitted the aborting of a fetus, even when there is no danger to the mother." The author of the article, Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel, a former mashgiah ruhani (spiritual mentor) at the Sha'alabim hesder yeshiva, argues, "It is incorrect to state unequivocally and authoritatively that the ban [on abortion] is absolute," and that in a case of a disagreement among poskim, it is appropriate in this case to follow those with a permissive approach....


Protect Roe v. Wade

Concerned for the future of reproductive choice, the Reform Jewish Movement has developed an issue-based website which features advocacy and action initiatives, rituals and services, a program bank, and more.


Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice: Pro-Faith, Pro-Family and Pro-Choice

RCRC: "Between a Woman and Her God"

Pro-Choice Sermons and Prayers for Roe v. Wade Observances
Lilith Magazine
Vol. 22.4, Winter 1997-98

by Leila Bronner

As Promise Keepers cast their political opposition to ABORTION in religious terms, a biblical scholar offers us texts which help us understand the theological differences between Christians and Jews.

This article cannot be found online but may be in your local public library or in the library of your local Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist synagogue. It can also be ordered directly from Lilith Magazine.

Also of interest in the same issue:
Our Sisters’ Keepers by Alice Sparberg Alexiou
Guess who loses in the Promise-Keepers’ "battle against Satan"...

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism on Reproductive Rights

Some interesting articles from a more Orthodox standpoint:

Abortion in Jewish Law
Daniel Eisenberg, M.D.

The traditional Jewish view of abortion does not fit conveniently into any of the major "camps" in the current debate over abortion.

When Men Strive: an Analysis of Shemot 21:21-22 and Related Issues


Some Resolutions of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism:

Stem Cell Research and Education (2003)
Support of Reproductive Health Care Workers (1999)
Violence and Pro-Choice (1993)

From Reconstructionist Jews:

The Hardest Decision
By RUTH ROUTTENBERG SELDIN in Reconstructionism Today
VOLUME 11, NUMBER 2, WINTER 2003-2004

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association:
Resolution on Educational and Political Support for Stem Cell Research, adopted March, 2005


Here is a good PPT on stem cells which can be viewed online.

The major Jewish women's organizations have adopted stem cell research as an issue and are promoting it to state legislatures. There was a wonderful presentation at my synagogue a few months back. Jewish religious law is largely in favor stem cell research.

Information on Cord Blood Donations provided by Ms. Julien's sister:

From the Society for Humanistic Judaism:

Reproductive Choice

Stem Cell Research