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What is the Jewish view on abortion?

Jewish law permits and views abortion as necessary in some cases. When the mother’s life is at risk because of the unborn child, an abortion is obligatory. This is because the child has the status of “potential human life,” until the majority of its body has made its egress from the mother’s body. Its life nevertheless still is valuable, and such potential life cannot be terminated without a strong medical reason.

If the foetus threatens the life of the mother, and the choice is between the health of the two of them, the mother must be chosen at all times, for her life is actual, in existence, and therefore more valuable, not least due to her established relations with others. It is also the case that the mother’s life is a certainty without the foetal threat, whereas the foetus has not proved its viability until thirty days after birth. From this period on, however, every human being, whether they are physically or mentally debilitated or not, has equal rights to every other human being.

For the first forty days following conception, the fertilized egg is considered by some Rabbinic authorities as being mere ‘fluid’. From the forty days until birth, the foetus is not considered a living person, yet aborting it without a sufficiently strong physical or psychiatric reason is still condemned from the perspective of the Jewish faith. In addition to this, the Rabbinic authorities permit abortion not only if the mother’s life is in danger, but even if her health may suffer by continuation of the pregnancy.

The prevention of severe mental illness is generally regarded by Halacha as the same as saving the life itself. By way of example, Halachic authorities have ruled that the prevention of very serious post-natal depression would be sufficient grounds for abortion. Yet, many conditions would need to be taken into account before the procedure could take place, including, “the severity of the potential psychological illness; the quality of the medical advice indicating that the illness may occur; the possibility of treating the depression should the pregnancy run to term, and finally, the stage to which the pregnancy has developed.” This takes into consideration the health of the mother, the welfare on the unborn child and her existing family.

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