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Question 18.3.10:
Reform's Position On...Abortion

Answer:

[Based on material in Contemporary American Reform Responsa by Rabbi Walter Jacob, publ. by CCAR]:

The Reform Movement has had a long history of liberalism on many social and family matters. Reform feels that the pattern of tradition, until the most recent generation, has demonstrated a liberal approach to abortion and has definitely permitted it in case of any danger to the life of the mother. That danger may be physical or psychological. When this occurs at any time during the pregnancy, Reform Judaism would not hesitate to permit an abortion. This would also include cases of incest and rape if the mother wishes to have an abortion.

Twentieth century medicine has brought a greater understanding of the fetus, and it is now possible to discover major problems in the fetus quite early in the pregnancy. Some genetic defects can be discovered shortly after conception and more research will make such techniques widely available. It is, of course, equally true that modern medicine has presented ways of keeping babies with very serious problems alive, frequently in a vegetative state, which brings great misery to the family involved. Such problems, as those caused by Tay Sachs and other degenerative or permanent conditions which seriously endanger the life of the child and potentially the mental health of the mother, are indications for permitting an abortion.

Reform Judaism agrees with the traditional authorities that abortions should be approached cautiously throughout the life of the fetus. Most authorities would be least hesitant during the first forty days of the fetus' life (Yeb. 69b; Nid. 30b; M. Ker. 1.1; Shulhan Arukah Hoshen Mishpat 210.2; Solomon Skola, Bet Shelomo, Hoshen Mishpat 132; Joseph Trani, Responsa Maharit 1.99, Noam 9 pp 213ff, etc.). Even the strict Rabbi Unterman permits non-Jews to perform abortions within the forty day periods (Rabbi Unterman, op. cit., pp 8ff).

From forty days until twenty-seven weeks, the fetus possesses some status, but its future remains doubtful (goses biydei adam; San. 78a; Nid 44b and commentaries) as we are not sure of this viability. Reform Judaism must, therefore, be more certain of the grounds for abortion, but would still permit it.

It is clear from all of this that the traditional authorities would be most lenient with abortions within the first forty days. After that time, there is a difference of opinion. Those who are within the broadest range of permissibility permit abortion at any time before birth, if there is serious danger to the health of the mother or child. Reform Judaism is in agreement with that liberal stance. Reform Judaism does not encourage abortion, nor favor it for trivial reasons, or sanction it "on demand".


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