- Category: INTRODUCTION TO THE NOAHIDE LAWS
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Abortion is the most controversial issue in America today. Supreme Court Nominees are interrogated on this issue. On college campuses across the nation students participate in debates on this subject. Probably the most difficult aspect of the debate is that it is very emotional—on both sides.
Members in the pro-choice camp claim that the issue centers around a woman’s right to choose. They offer several reasons that the woman’s right to choose supercedes the child’s right to live. The question comes down to an ethical one. This is one reason that so much energy has been focused on the question of whether or not a child in the mother’s womb is a human being.
Several suggestions have been made to determine if the child has a right to life or if it is nothing more than a collection of pre-human tissue that can be destroyed-much like the egg yoke of an egg is not yet a chicken.
Without revelation the question of when human life begins is open to debate. We can certainly determine when biological life begins-and that’s almost immediately. Whether or not the biological mass of tissue is human or not is probably a question science cannot answer, depending on what is meant by “human.”
Engaging the ethical debate on human life, the fetus, and what murder is is a complex issue. When debating this argument from a human perspective without revelation the answer to the question can go either way ethically. Ethics not based on God is not ethics it is custom and etiquette. Secularized ethics is as unpredictable and changing as popular fads in music and society.
The question that must concern us is what is God’s opinion on this issue? Only by engaging the question from this perspective can we hope to find the true answer to this question.
There are times when abortion is permitted according to Halachah. That time is when it is a matter of life or death. If a woman is about to give birth and it turns out that by having the child the mother will die she is obligated to have an abortion. This brings us to a complex issue. Why is the mother commanded to have an abortion versus allowing the child to be born? How can we decide which life is more valuable? Shmot28 gives a scenario where a pregnant woman finds herself in between two men while they are fighting. In the first scenario she miscarries and the culprit is “fined,” but in the second scenario she is killed. The second scenario is punished like a murder case, while the first scenario is addressed through monetary compensation. Why the difference? A baby before its head exits the birth canal is considered a potential life. To go even further the child is considered to be like the woman’s thigh, i.e., a part of her body!
This is astonishing considering pro-choice proponents have long made the same claim. According to them the baby is like a part of the woman’s body and therefore she may do with it as she sees fit! It is interesting that both Jewish Law and pro-choice begin at the same point (that the baby is like the woman’s body), but they come to two very different conclusions.
One might wonder why the Sages of Israel did not conclude that abortion was okay. Remember, the baby has the status of potential life.
The Sages drew a very different conclusion because the Oral Torah is clear on this issue. If a baby is like a part of the woman’s body (her thigh), then how would most people react to one of their limbs being cut off? In truth, only a life or death situation will cause people to choose to cut off a limb. Although there are some who even risk death rather than part with a limb!
Even more than that, the baby is still a potential life. If someone is going defend the removal of their limb, which they can live without, it would seem even more they would defend the child growing in the mother’s womb.
It is only when the (potential) life of the baby threatens the (actual) life of the mother that an abortion becomes an acceptable solution. However, once the baby’s head exits the birth canal the mother and baby are equally alive. That means that the situation becomes one life versus another. Since neither baby nor mother’s life is more valuable we are not allowed to choose one life over another.
Some would argue that a Noachide is never allowed to perform an abortion whether the mother’s life is in jeopardy or not. To defend this claim they site a certain understanding of “rodef” or pursuer (lit. someone who is trying to kill another person) as support for this position. It seems clear that the Torah’s approach to abortion is not nearly as black and white as it is with Christians. However, we must appreciate on this issue at least Christians (and Muslims) are on the right page.
Abortion under certain circumstances is a heinous crime-it is murder. The abortion issue is a very emotional one, but emotion does not remove our responsibility. What it does do is create a more sympathetic and caring ear to our fellow-or it should.