It’s time to stop denying the obvious. The Supreme Court decision overriding Roe v. Wade was not a legal decision, based on the concept that abortion rights are not a protected right in the US Constitution. It was the imposition of a specific theological belief on the American public by a functional Christian body that adheres to a specific doctrinal and catholic beliefs regarding the status of a fetus.
Simply put, it disregarded the principles of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state that under lied, to date, American democracy. As is well documented, the American public is pluralistic in its religious beliefs and practices, and includes those whose life style and values are not based on any specific religion or doctrine.
Thus, it should be axiomatic that judicial decisions should not prevent individual citizens from acting on their own cardinal principles, nor the imposition of one’s belief on another, otherwise it is a violation of the basic of freedom of religion. Yes, overturning Roe v. Wade deprives the mother of her freedom to manage her own body, but no less importantly, it imposes the beliefs and practices of one religious group on another, and deprives citizens of their own basic religious rights.
It should clarify that the belief that life begins at fertilization, even at the embryonic stage in a test tube, and that the fetus in the womb has the same status and rights as the living mother is a specific minority doctrine. For example, according to the Jewish tradition, fetal status only begins at placentation. Thus, not only is the fertilized embryo in the test tube or the mother’s fallopian tubes not considered alive and surely not human, it has no independent legal status, let alone spiritual or personhood dimension.
Thus, unused frozen embryos can readily be discarded and even used by design for medical experimentation. In vitro fertilization to produce embryonic tissue that can be used for medical treatment is not only allowed but encouraged, as fetal cells have potential therapeutic value!
Furthermore, contraception devices such as IUDs and the use of morning-after pills that prevent or interfere with placentation are fully halachically acceptable, as they are not aborting a human life. For the first 40 days after placentation, the embryo is considered “like water,” unformed and thus can be legally aborted with relative halachic flexibility. Most importantly, even after six weeks when fetal organs begin to function and acquire human form and shape, and even when it reaches potential extrauterine viability, it is never considered equivalent to the mother’s life and well-being.
The fetus acquires full human status, personhood, and independent moral worth at birth and not at fertilization, not at placentation, not when there is a heartbeat, nor when it reaches a point in the pregnancy for potential viability. Simply put, life in all its full dimension and worth begins at birth!
Abortion and the Bible
It should be emphasized that there is no prohibition of abortion among the 613 biblical commandments. In fact, the term “abortion” never occurs in the Bible. What is written in Exodus 21:22-25, it refers to an accidental miscarriage and death of a newborn fetus secondary to the trauma of the mother.
As written: “If men strive and hurt a woman with child so that her fruit depart from her and yet no mischief follow, he shall be surely punished according, as the woman’s husband will lay upon him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.”
In other words, the death of the fetus is a loss of a valuable financial asset and is not murder, and the punishment for the perpetrator is monetary compensation to the husband of the woman who miscarried. The Bible prescribes the death penalty for the murder of a human being i.e. if the mother dies, but not for the expulsion and death of a fetus, irrespective of the week of gestation.
Therefore, it is clear that the decision of the Supreme Court and its facilitation of a restrictive if not outright across the board prohibition of abortion is not simply a legally based judgment but rather an expression of a particular religious belief and its imposition on the American public.
The writer is a former director of the Pediatrics Department of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and a professor (emeritus) of pediatrics at the Hebrew University School of Medicine.