As we saw (section 1), if a pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, she may abort. However, poskim disagree concerning cases in which the pregnancy is not life-threatening, but rather exacerbates a preexisting condition, like if the mother already has an aural or ocular condition that pregnancy will intensify, possibly leaving her deaf or blind. Alternatively, the pregnancy will worsen an illness that does not threaten her life, but causes terrible pain. Those who adopt the restrictive approach prohibit abortion in such cases (Igrot Moshe, ḤM 2:69; Shevet Ha-Levi 7:208 and 9:266), whereas those who adopt a more permissive approach allow it (Torat Ḥesed, EH 42:32; Mishpetei Uziel, ḤM 3:46; Tzitz Eliezer 9:51:3).
Sometimes pregnancy can jeopardize the mother’s mental health. In such a case, some poskim rule that even those who adopt the restrictive approach would permit abortion, since mental illness can be life-threatening and cause one to become suicidal (Levushei Mordechai, ḤM §39; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). Recently, effective medications have been developed to treat many psychiatric disorders. Therefore, if a psychiatrist says that the mother can be medicated so that she will not become suicidal, she may not abort (Nishmat Avraham, ḤM 425, n. 12).
According to the more permissive approach, abortion can be allowed if the pregnancy would cause tremendous emotional anguish, even if there is no concern that it will lead to suicide. In practice, every question of this sort requires a couple first to consult with a God-fearing mental health professional and then to ask a wise person based on the assessment obtained.
It is forbidden to abort for financial concerns. Even when a couple believe that their financial situation will not allow them to raise another child, they may not terminate the pregnancy. Even those who adopt the more permissive approach maintain that aborting for financial or social reasons is a grave transgression. Zohar states that one who causes a fetus’s death demolishes what God constructed, causes weeping in heaven, distances the Divine Presence from this world, and increases the world’s troubles (Zohar II 3b; Tzitz Eliezer 7:48 and the end of 9:51:3).