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What is the Torah's View on Abortion?

What is the Torah's View on Abortion?



What does the Bible say about abortion? Is a child's life worth less than an adult's? Does life begin at birth or conception?


Judaism contains a lot more wisdom than what you can read in the Bible. There's a very rich tradition that tells us how to understand the Bible and how to apply it. That tradition has been passed down from teacher to student in an unbroken chain since Moses. Eventually, much of it was written in the Mishnah and the Talmud, along with many of the discussions and later enactments that were based on these traditional teachings.

For example, the Bible tells us "Thou shalt not kill." But what does that mean? What if someone is going about killing others? What if he is trying to kill me?

So our tradition tells us that the Bible is not talking about those cases. If someone is out to kill you or other innocent people, you need to protect those innocent lives, even if it means killing the murderer.

This applies to an abortion, as well. A fetus is a potential life, so we are not allowed to kill a fetus. However, if the fetus is endangering the mother's life and the only way to protect the mother is by taking the life of the fetus, then we must do so.

However, this is all only as long as the fetus is a life-in-potential. Once the baby's head has emerged from the birth canal, s/he has become a full-fledged human being of the same status as the mother. Even though the mother has a family to take care of and has proven herself viable and valuable, we consider this a matter of one life versus another. At that point, we can't give precedent to either life. Life, according to our tradition, is not something to which you can apply relative values.

There is a very large literature on this topic. And as in all areas of complex halachah (Jewish law), every case needs to be individually evaluated by a rabbi -- who when necessary will consult with medical professionals and/or rabbis who are experts in this particular field of law.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (66)
February 8, 2017
Daniel you say that the Torah regards the unborn baby as a full person
But the Torah says that if two men are fighting, and one of them injures the wife of the other, such that "her fruit depart" but she is otherwise unharmed, the man who did it is not charged with murder. Instead, he pays a fine to the father of the unborn child. If the woman herself suffers injury, then the man who injured her must also pay her medical expenses, pain and suffering, and so on, as for any other injury. But either way, the death of the unborn child is not murder according to the Bible. Jeremiah's knowing us in the womb does not mean we were fully human at that point. We are not fully human until we can survive outside the womb, without an umbillical cord drawing life from our mother.

The mother's life takes precedence. Imagine yourself being surgically linked to someone so that their survival depends on you for even a week--much less nine months. That person who draws life from you may also be less than fully human, since he has no independent existence.
February 6, 2017
Re: Potential life vs. Potential Harm (response to Anonymous in Camarillo, CA)
I did not mean to imply that when a man opts out it is without guilt or responsibility.
Jordan Disko
February 5, 2017
Re: Potential life vs. Potential Harm (response to Jordan Disko of Beaverton)
It's not correct to say that "Men always have the choice to opt out (just leave-no medical procedure involved.) "

Men who leave are still obligated to pay child support and have nearly all the same legal responsibilities after birth as mothers do (except breastfeeding, for obvious reasons). (In theory, a court could decide that a man should have custody and must raise the child, even if he doesn't want to, but that's not common; usually, if the father doesn't want to be involved, he just has to pay.)

Men don't experience pregnancy, but once a birth happens, both parents are subject to all the problems you mentioned. Actually, since a woman usually can give up the child for adoption (fathers can object, but rarely do), but fathers often can't (because the mother's consent is needed), a father is probably less likely to be able to avoid any long-term problems resulting from being a parent. (In the short-term, the mother is more likely to have problems that occur before the birth.)
Camarillo, CA, USA
January 29, 2017
Potential life vs. Potential Harm
If we can speak in terms of potential life, is it fruitful to speak of the potential harms that the added responsibility of having a child would entail? One of the reasons that a person may have for ending a pregnancy(I am no expert) is to prevent the mother needing to enter an unhealthy or limited educational, vocational direction or even long term unhealthy relationships elsewhere. How does a fetus win out over the parent or other children involved. Men always have the choice to opt out (just leave-no medical procedure involved.)
Jordan Disko
April 1, 2016
That's not the point I was addressing in the previous post - I was just showing that Torah regards baby's life equal to the adults life in the matters of un/intentional murder.

Regarding your new comment, I agree with the most of it, however, it is up to mother, and mother alone to decide. Torah is not supporting her decision to end the life of a fetus, whatever the reason is - especially in cases of rape or emotional troubles. However, we as men cannot judge women, that is their burden, and we can only pray that they will always make wise decision.
Honestly, I don't know how can a Rabbi give suggestion in those cases. It surely cannot be based on anything that is written in the Tanakh. These are special circumstances that don't have clear explanation and guidelines in the Torah - so everyone has to be very careful when making decisions.
I, too, hope that the medicine will soon bring to light advancement that will allow for millions of fetuses to be saved every year.

March 29, 2016
To Daniel
There are instances when a woman tells her rabbi why she needs an abortion and he approves it. It may be her physical health; for example, if she has TB, the pregnancy will kill her--and her health has priority over the baby's life, because her current children need her, her husband needs her, her parents need her--many people in her life need her, and she has no right to give up her life, or even her health, to produce this baby.

She may have been raped. By her father or her brother, even.

Or she may be emotionally so threatened that she has decided to kill herself rather than face whatever comes with this baby.

There may be other reasons that a rabbi will say she really needs to be free of this pregnancy. If she wants it she calls it her baby. If not, she calls it a fetus.

She needs to be treated as a surrogate mother of someone else's baby. Let the medical community learn to transplant the baby to another woman's womb ASAP. A baby deserves to grow in a loving womb.
March 27, 2016
True Torah
Hymie, that's true for accidental miscarriage. But we have to make clear difference between accidental and intentional killing.
Torah says:
"He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die." - Exodus 21:12-14
So, any accidental murder is not capital sin. But intentional murder is.
Killing intentionally a baby from day one is a MURDER. How can we even think to say that baby is not a person from the moment of conceiving?
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you;..." Jeremiah 1:5
"The children fought with each other inside her so much that she said, “If it’s going to be like this, why go on living?”" Genesis 25:22
Baby is a person from conception.
March 16, 2016
And He breathed into his nostrils the breathe of life and the man became a living soul.
February 19, 2016
The Torah specifically says that if two men are fighting, and cause a nearby woman to lose her unborn child, the man at fault must pay a fine to the woman's husband. Thus the death of an unborn child is not murder. It is a serious loss, but it is not murder.

I notice that the rabbi used the word "kill" not the word "murder".
February 14, 2016
Life is precious. In my opinion a woman has a right to abortion if raped or her life is threatened by the fetus. Otherwise casual abortions are sacrifices to the idol narcissism.
Dr. Reitmam