The Rabbinical Council of America, the leading membership organization of orthodox rabbis in North America, strongly opposes parts of The Reproductive Health Act, New York State’s recently adopted legislation on abortion.
The New York law permits abortion when “the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” In addition, the new law moves the section of state law dealing with abortion from the penal code to health statutes.
Jewish law opposes abortion, except in cases of danger to the mother. Most authorities consider feticide an act of murder; others deem it an act akin to the murder of potential life. There are Jewish legal scholars who permit, in extenuating circumstances, the abortion of compromised fetuses.
The RCA maintains that “abortion on demand,” even before twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, is forbidden. There is no sanction to permit the abortion of a healthy fetus when the mother’s life is not endangered. The RCA supports that part of the law that permits abortion, even at a late stage, when the mother’s life is at risk.
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, of blessed memory, a leading expert in Jewish law and mentor to many of rabbis of the RCA, wrote, “from the perspective of the fetus and those concerned with its welfare, liberality in this direction comes at the expense of humanity…” (“Abortion: A Halakhic Perspective,” Tradition, 25(4), Summer 1991).
Rabbi Elazar Muskin, president of the RCA, said, “Jewish law is based on the theological presumption that a human being does not possess total ownership of his or her body. Our bodies belong to God; we are His stewards. Therefore, decisions about abortion must be made with due consideration of theological and moral principles.”
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, first vice president of the RCA, said, “The removal of any restriction from abortion access and the redefining of the word ‘homicide’ to exclude abortion, indicate a further erosion of the moral values of our society, where killing babies is no longer construed as immoral in any way, even when the fetus has a measure of personhood, actual or potential.”
Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA, added, “We are very concerned about the potential physical, emotional, personal, and financial implications that abortion restrictions may have on the mother, the family, and the child. We maintain that it is the duty of the family, as well as that of society, to enable those impacted to live lives of dignity and we must prioritize ways to find means of support.”