11. Unplanned Pregnancy and Possible Pregnancy from Rape

An unmarried woman with an unplanned pregnancy may not abort her perfectly healthy fetus. However, in pressing circumstances, when the pregnancy is likely to cause her psychological difficulties, abortion can be permitted within the first forty days from conception. As we saw above (section 4), according to most poskim, within the first forty days of pregnancy the organs of the fetus have not yet formed, and the more stringent laws of a fetus do not yet apply. It is best to end the pregnancy via oral medication or similar methods, so that the abortion is performed indirectly, thereby reducing the severity of the prohibition (as explained in n. 8).

Once the fetus has reached the 41st day, even if the pregnancy is causing the woman psychological difficulties, she may not abort. Even if she knows that she will be unable to care for the child, whether because of embarrassment or finances, she still may not abort. Rather, she should give the child up for adoption. Even according to those who maintain the more permissive view on abortion, permission is granted when the fetus is sick or its life would involve continuous suffering; here, however, the fetus is healthy, so abortion is prohibited. It is well known that there are many good people who are interested in adopting babies, so the child can have a good life. Still, if the case involves a young woman whose parents and teachers think will lose her way and have trouble building a solid family, there are grounds to consult a wise Torah scholar.

In reality, there is no need to reach the point where such a question must be posed. There is a simple solution. Any woman who is raped or seduced should go straight to a doctor and get a prescription for the “morning after pill” that prevents pregnancy when taken within three days of having sexual relations. Alternatively, if an IUD is implanted within a day of a rape, it prevents pregnancy. It would seem that all would agree that a rape victim may do either of these, since they certainly do not involve killing a fetus. Rather, they prevent a pregnancy from occurring. This is an opportunity to stress the critical importance of an open mother-daughter relationship, which will allow a daughter to turn to her mother for help if difficult situations arise.[11]


[11]. During the first three days following sexual relations, these measures are considered contraception, not abortion. There is support for this in the Talmud, which states, “For the first three days, a person should petition [God] for mercy, so that it does not putrefy” (Berakhot 60a). Rashi comments: “‘So that it does not putrefy’ – namely the seed; rather it should be accepted and become an embryo.” This is reflected in the rulings that appear in Nishmat Avraham (ḤM, 425:1 n. 27) in the name of R. Auerbach and R. Neuwirth. In my opinion, there are stronger grounds to permit abortion during the first fourteen days than during the rest of the forty days, because the woman is not yet expecting her next period, and the pregnancy is not yet detectable.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman