Roe v. Wade, and How Judaism Views Abortion

One religious woman’s experience with and personal perspective on abortion in the Jewish state of Israel.

By Rachel Avraham | | Topics: Abortion
Abortion is becoming a more hot button issue in Israel after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Abortion is becoming a more hot button issue in Israel after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Photo: Yossi Zamir/Flash90

The following is a very personal perspective on the issue of abortion in Israel. While we know how sensitive this issue is to our readers, we want to keep you informed of how Israel and Israelis view it, even Bible-believing religious Israelis.

That said, the views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Israel Today, and we will be publishing additional articles on this topic from different perspectives.



In recent days, I was shocked and horrified when I read that a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio was denied the right to an abortion after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. This child rape victim was six weeks and three days pregnant, yet had to travel to Indiana to have an abortion, an option that may not even exist in the future. From a Jewish perspective, this reality poses a grave ethical dilemma, as the Talmud relates that a fetus is “mere water” until 40 days after gestation, and Rashi even asserts that a person does not become a person until he or she is “born.”

This is why in Exodus 21:22, it is written:

“If men strive, and wound a pregnant woman so that her fruit be expelled, but no harm befell [her], then shall he be fined as her husband shall assess, and the matter placed before the judges. But if harm befell [her], then shall you give life for life.”

As Rabbi David Feldman noted:

“The Talmud makes this verse’s teaching explicit: only monetary compensation is exacted of him who causes a woman to miscarry. Though the abortion spoken of here is accidental, the verse is still a source for the teaching that feticide is not a capital crime.”

Meanwhile, the mental health of the mother in the aforementioned case is gravely jeopardized should the child rape victim be compelled to deliver her rapist’s child at age 10, and Judaism believes the rights of the mother precede those of the fetus. Thus, this child had a legitimate reason for wanting to have an abortion, and from a Jewish perspective it should not have been denied her. But in some Christian circles in America, every child, including one born under these circumstances, is a blessing, and this particular victim should have raised the child of her rapist.

As a Jewish person, I have a different way of looking at the world. I think of the scenario of a child rape victim being forced to raise her rapist’s child and it brings to mind the Kurdish movie “Turtles Can Fly.” It is about a young Kurdish girl who was raped by Saddam Hussein’s forces, yet was forced to raise her rapist’s child together with her disabled brother, who had his arms amputated by the Baathists. She was forced to do this at a young age without the support of her own parents.

Do you know what happened at the end of this movie? The mental agony that this experience caused to the young Kurdish girl led her to commit suicide and to kill her own baby, thus leaving her poor disabled brother alone to fend for himself. Given such an ending, would it not have been better for her to have access to an abortion and terminate her pregnancy, rather than be forced to deliver her rapist’s child?


A personal perspective

My perspective as a religious Jewish woman on abortions is very different from many religious Christians in America.

I was raped at age 7. Having lived through such an experience, I am ideologically opposed to any government dictating to women what they should do with their bodies.

Since Judaism believes that a fetus is merely a part of the pregnant woman’s physical body even after the 40-day period of gestation, then a woman should have the right to decide what she does with her own body, even though I personally would only get an abortion if I was raped or my life was in danger. This is because although Judaism has its own definitions, whenever I get pregnant, I feel like the creature inside of me is alive and he or she is a special part of me.

Nevertheless, the government should never dictate to women what they should do.

In this regard, Israel conducts itself differently from the United States, as abortion is permissible in the Jewish state. As Maimonides said:

“The Sages ruled that when a woman has difficulty in giving birth, one may dismember the child in her womb, either with drugs or by surgery, because it is like a pursuer seeking to kill her.“

I am a personal witness to how abortions work in the State of Israel. During the corona period, I found myself in a situation where I was pregnant, yet the fetus died in my womb. But I could not wait to miscarry naturally because the fetus was endangering my life. So I went to a local hospital and they removed the fetus from my womb. No one made me feel guilty about terminating my pregnancy for that reason. In fact, the procedure was carried out in an ultra-Orthodox religious hospital.

According to the Mishnah:

“If a woman has [life-threatening] difficulty in childbirth, the embryo within her should be dismembered limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over its life.”

Although laws banning abortion normally include exceptions to save the life of the mother or other medical emergencies, there are many experts that say the murky wording of the laws creates confusion and puts the lives of pregnant women at risk. “There is a total lack of clarity of how these laws will affect real-life situations that physicians, like myself, face all the time,” wrote Rebecca Perret, an OB-GYN in Louisiana, adding that the Louisiana bans will “chill” reproductive health care instead of “promoting” it.

Perret added that “these laws will cause grave and devastating harm to pregnant patients throughout the state. I know these trigger bans leave me, and other physicians like me, confused, threatened, and worried for just doing our jobs.”

Indeed, many physicians if given the choice between trying to save the life of the mother and trying to save the fetus will now try to save both due to the fear that their careers could be in jeopardy for prioritizing the life of the mother due to the murky wording of the laws.This already happened in El Salvador and many other countries where abortion is banned legally. In the long run this will make it harder for women like me to have life-saving abortions, too.


Unlikely to happen in Israel

Fortunately, I believe what happened in the US is unlikely to happen in Israel. In response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the State of Israel actually loosened its abortion laws. In the past, Israelis had to gain the approval of a committee of doctors for every abortion in the Jewish state. They always approved abortions in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother, and also approved it in many other cases as well, so long as the pregnant woman consulted this committee and a social worker.

But now, it was decided that Israeli women will have access to abortion pills through Israel’s universal healthcare system, and appealing to this committee will no longer be required, and will exist only in rare cases. These changes are expected to be implemented over the next three months.

Israel’s Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said following what happened in the US:

“The move by the US Supreme Court to deny a woman the right to her body is a dark move. We are somewhere else, and we are making great strides in the right direction today.”

With those words, the State of Israel effectively condemned the US Supreme Court decision and ensured that this country will not follow suit.

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