Chapter: 09 – Terminating Pregnancy

01. The Intermediate Status of the Fetus

One of the most difficult questions in Jewish law is: under what circumstances is terminating a pregnancy justified? Let us first review the basics. On one hand, it is clear that one may not kill a fetus, whether directly or … Continue reading

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02. The Prohibition of Abortion for Jews and Non-Jews

Although abortion is prohibited for both Jews and Noaḥides (i.e., non-Jews, who are obligated in the seven Noaḥide laws), there is a difference when it comes to punishment. A Jew who kills a fetus is not punished by a beit … Continue reading

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03. Abortion for a Great Need

As we have seen, if a pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, she may abort (m. Ohalot 7:6). There are other scenarios in which the permissibility of an abortion is less clear, for example, in a case where the mother’s life … Continue reading

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04. The First Forty Days and the Subsequent Stages of Pregnancy

The earlier the stage of the fetus’s gestational development, the more room there is for leniency in allowing an abortion. Conversely, the more developed the fetus is, the higher the degree of life it exhibits, and even the most lenient … Continue reading

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05. Aborting a Fetus with Tay-Sachs

Tay-Sachs is an incurable genetic disorder caused by the lack of the vital enzyme hexosaminidase-A (Hex-A). Those born with the disease begin to lag in their physical and intellectual development starting at about six months old. This is followed by … Continue reading

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06. A Down Syndrome Fetus

People with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome, which leads to intellectual and physical disabilities of varying severity. They have distinctive builds and facial features, and are at increased risk for certain illnesses and defects, including heart defects and duodenal … Continue reading

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07. Concern About Defects in the Fetus

Thus far we have discussed cases in which a fetus clearly suffers from a specific condition. However, sometimes all that we can know is that a fetus is at risk of being ill. For example, if the mother contracted German … Continue reading

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08. Credibility of Doctors and Consultation with Rabbis

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, … Continue reading

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09. The Desirability of Prenatal Testing

As we have seen, some poskim prohibit abortion even when the fetus suffers from a serious illness. Many of them add that the mother should not do prenatal tests, as it would be pointless; even if the tests showed the … Continue reading

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10. A Mamzer Fetus

If a married woman had relations with another man, or was raped and became pregnant, the resulting child is a mamzer or mamzeret and may not marry a born Jew. (Although it is permissible for a male mamzer to marry … Continue reading

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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 … Continue reading

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12. The Mother’s Health and Financial Considerations

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 … Continue reading

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13. A Pregnant Cancer Patient

If a pregnant woman has an aggressive form of cancer, she may abort, because pregnancy causes cancer to metastasize more quickly. Even if the abortion will not save her life, but only slow the spread of the disease and prolong … Continue reading

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14. Multifetal Pregnancies

Sometimes, as a result of fertility treatments, a woman becomes pregnant with multiple fetuses. Carrying two fetuses is not considered especially risky, as some women have twins without medical intervention. Even carrying three fetuses is generally not considered especially risky, … Continue reading

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