Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

31 for 21: Abortion in Judaism

A couple of weeks ago I wrote some of my thoughts on abortion.  I felt that I should add some Jewish context to the subject, however.   Unlike strict Christianity, even Orthodox Judaism does not consider a fetus to be the equivalent of a full human being.  Abortion in the case of risk to the mother is not only permitted, but is mandatory.  The fetus is seen as trespassing on the mother's body, and can only remain there as long as it is a gracious guest.  Some sources differentiate between the embryonic stage and the fetal stage at the age of 40 days, when the soul is deemed to enter the fetus.  40 days is a number that comes up quite often in Judaism.  It is the number of days that Moses spent on Mt. Sinai producing the Tablets of the Covenant.  This is reflected in the 40 days from Tisha B'Av (commemorating the destruction of the two Temples, but also the sin of the Golden Calf, which supposedly took place on that day) until Yom Kippur, when we have total conciliation with G*d.   Interestingly enough, 40 days is when brain waves begin to be detected.  Although these are not the same kind of brain waves that are associated with conscious thought, the idea that these represent the soul is tantalizing.  Jewish thinkers also vary on the issue of aborting disabled fetuses.  While many argue for abortion in the case of a terminal or severely debilitating condition, more mild birth defects are not seen by Orthodox Jews as warranting termination.   However, even in those cases rabbinic sources frown on abortion, it is not seen as the equivalent of murder, but more of a civil offense on the woman, akin to an amputation.  Even when the fetus warrants consideration, the mother takes precedence.

What does this mean for children with Down syndrome?  Unfortunately, the perception of Down syndrome as a "severe disability" means that many Jewish babies with this condition are aborted.   There are those who are working to reverse this trend, given the rapidly improving prognosis for people with Down syndrome today.   I hope to be one of these!

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