It permits abortions in cases when the life of the mother is endangered, and rabbinic opinions have said the mother’s mental state, as well as her physical condition, may be considered.
In short, the Jewish position is not a free for all. Neither is it a strict, inflexible religious doctrine. It is nuanced, debated and thoughtful.
As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote in “Jewish Literacy:”
“Some Orthodox rabbis have even ruled that a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape cannot have an abortion, though I have always been more impressed by the ruling of the nineteenth-century Rabbi Yehuda Perilman, who wrote that women differ from ‘mother earth’ in that they need not nurture seeds planted in them against their will.”
Such thoughtful discourse contrasts starkly with the position of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate from the state of Missouri.
Akin is still treading water for his controversial and inaccurate answer he gave to a question about abortion for rape victims during an Aug. 19 interview in St. Louis.
Here is his complete statement:
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”
It’s a troubling statement, not only because we disagree with forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy begun by a violent, nonconsensual act, but because medical experts have been loud and clear in refuting Akin’s points.
That’s why the Jewish position in this debate is so important. While many fundamentalist Christians want no exception in any future anti-abortion law for victims of rape and incest — and many are flocking to Akin’s defense — that position is not uniformly held across the religious spectrum. Many sincere people of faith — all faiths, not just Jews — do not share that view. Indeed, they have a deep empathy for women who become pregnant by force or compulsion.
That’s important to remember as this debate continues. Akin is entitled to his beliefs, but his beliefs do not represent the views of all religious people.
Despite his protests, Akin has little empathy for a woman made pregnant by a violent act. Even when he made his politically motivated apology for his remark, he did so only for his choice of words, not for his position.
The abortion law will be revisited in this country — it already has been — and we are not telling our readers they should be pro-life or pro-choice. We are telling them that Jewish tradition has a different take and we invite our readers to study it.