For all questions regarding abortion, it is imperative to seek the opinion of an honest doctor who relates with reverence to the potential life of a fetus, and then to consult a rabbi who has expertise in these issues. Unfortunately, in many cases, doctors have been negligent in their care, conducted irresponsible tests, and condemned perfectly healthy fetuses to death. Sometimes this happens when test results are inconclusive, yet the doctors rush to instruct the parents to abort instead of repeating the test. Other times, a problem is discovered in the third month of the pregnancy whose specific nature cannot be determined until the fifth month (as in the case of CMV). However, because doctors make light of the serious issue of abortion, they recommend abortion in the third month instead of waiting for more accurate tests to become feasible.
I was told about a woman who got pregnant for the first time after years of waiting. After a gynecological exam, she was told that her fetus had died, and she was sent for a D&C. I need not describe her devastation. Luckily for her, while she was tearfully awaiting the procedure, a doctor passed by whom she knew from her previous treatments. Upon hearing her painful story, he suggested repeating the exam. His examination showed that the fetus was alive. She had the privilege of giving birth, and then raising a beautiful daughter.
As a result of such cases, some poskim rule that one may not rely on the opinion of a non-religious doctor in these matters, lest he declare that a fetus has grave defects and encourage abortion without justification (such as where an abnormality or illness is uncertain, or where it is certain but tolerable). If no God-fearing doctor is available, the couple should have two doctors independently evaluate the fetus’s condition. If both determine that something is seriously wrong, then the couple should consult with a rabbi to determine whether an abortion is justified (R. Ovadia Yosef, Assia 1, p. 92).
In practice, even though a God-fearing doctor and a hospital that follows Jewish law are preferred, one may rely on a non-religious doctor on two conditions: that the doctor relates to the fetus’s life with the utmost seriousness, and that in any case of uncertainty he will reexamine and reevaluate the situation until he arrives at the most informed conclusion possible. If it is necessary to wait several weeks for better information, he must wait rather than make a premature pronouncement.
Although we learned (section 3) that halakha follows the permissive view, a couple must not rely solely on medical test results. Rather, they must consult a rabbi with expertise in these areas. First, so that the rabbi can verify with a doctor he trusts that the medical opinion they received is reliable and that all the appropriate tests were done. Second, because one cannot rule permissively on such a weighty question without having a serious discussion exploring all its aspects, including the severity of the fetal abnormality, the reliability of the tests, the family’s circumstances, the stage of the fetus, and the method to be used to abort. Additionally, it is very difficult for a couple to grapple with such a fateful moral choice. Consulting a responsible rabbi will ease their conscience and allow them to continue building a wonderful family.