A few notes:
Remember, as you prepare to teach these texts, that people of many genders can get pregnant--many (but not all) cisgendered women, some non-binary people, some trans men, and some other people whose identities are not reflected in the framework of binary gender. It may be worthwhile to be thoughtful about how you talk about these texts with regards to gender.
It may also be helpful to remember that people with a diverse range of sexualities can get pregnant, and that there are many contexts in which those pregnancies may occur--some of which are in the context of marriage, some not, in some cases consent may not have been given, and so forth.
The texts are organized very generally by concept or points of contemporary relevance.
1) The Fetus Does Not Have the Status of Personhood; Causing a Miscarriage Incurs Monetary Damages, Not Capital Punishment for Manslaughter.
2) The Full Status of Personhood Begins At a Viable Birth.
3) The Fetus Does Not Have Meaningful Status for the First Forty Days; Thereafter, It Is Considered Part of the Body of the Pregnant Person.
Note: Modern poskim count the 40 days noted in the texts below from conception. Given that our contemporary medical establishment counts pregnancy from last menstrual period, that would land the end of the 40 days at around 7-8 weeks' gestation as we count them today.
The gemara on the mishnah directly above it clarifies that the fetus is not the property of the husband, and, in the process, offers a powerful statement that has real resonance for today: “It’s obvious! It is her body!”
4) Abortion As Self-Defense
Note the addition of another method of abortion in this halakha, above--”whether with a drug or by hand.”
5) A Few More Views, From the 18th c. to Today:
אמנם נדון השואל בא"א שזנתה שאלה הגונה היא. וקרוב בעיני להתירה...וגם בעובר כשר הי' צד להקל לצורך גדול. כל כמה דלא עקר. אפי' אינו משום פקוח נפש אמו. אלא להציל לה מרעתו. שגורם לה כאב גדול וצ"ע.
Rabbi Jacob Emden Responsa She’elat Ya”vetz 1:43 (1739-1759)
The questioner asks about an adulterous married woman (who is pregnant) is a good question. It appears to me to permit her (to abort)...And even in the case of a legitimate fetus there is reason to be lenient if there is a great need, as long as the fetus has not begun to emerge; even if the mother’s life is not in jeopardy, but only so as to save her from an evil associated with it that would cause her great pain…
Rabbi Yehudah ibn Ayyash of Algeirs, ‘She’eilot U’tshuvot’ Beit Yehudah, part “Even haEzer,” Siman 14, 1740.
I was asked and searched my heart/intellect to examine and explore what I had heard about a small group of women who become pregnant and do not want to give birth again, and who do not want to remain pregnant any more [once they had already conceived]. And some of these women, if they become pregnant while nursing [another child] and they suspect the ayin hara [evil eye] or danger of the new birth to the living child, and they make a medication and drugs that are known to them to terminate a child, and he will become a nefel– a nonviable fetus....Here [in the case of the women of this teshuva] there is suspicion about the pregnancy [and is potential for harm is acknowledged, and women are therefore permitted to ingest this medication]. Behold– we have before us exactly what everyone acknowledges [is an acceptable situation where an abortion would be permitted], to illustrate the danger to the [living] child, and [the mother] is permitted to drink an abortive drug, so it seems, according to my understanding of the issue.
This above translation is by Rabbi Margaret Hughes-Robinson; you can find a full copy of the tshuvah here, which links to a pdf of the Hebrew.
It should be noted that ibn Ayyash refers to scenarios in which what we would now both call "self-managed abortion" and "medication abortion," are taking place--both of which are matters with strong contemporary resonance, and finds at least some situations in which to permit them.
Rabbi Mordechai Winkler, Levushei Mordekhai, Hoshen Mishpat 39 (1913)
Mental-health risk has been definitely equated with physical-health risk. This woman, in danger of losing her mental health unless the pregnancy is interrupted, would therefore accordingly qualify.
Rabbi Ben Zion Chai Uziel, Responsa Mishaptei Uziel 4:46 (1947-1964)
It is clear that abortion is not permitted without reason. That would be destructive and frustrative of the possibility of life. But for a reason, even if it is a slim reason, such as to prevent disgrace, then we have precedent and authority to permit it.
כשנשקפת סכנה לאשה בהמשכת ההריון יש להתיר הפלת העובר בשופי. גם כשמצב בריאותה של האשה רופף מאד ולשם רפואתה או השקטת מכאוביה הגדולים דרוש לבצע הפלת העובר, אע“פ שאין סכנה ממשית, גם כן יש מקום להתיר לעשות זאת, וכפי ראות עיני המורה המצב שלפניו.
Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer 9:51.3 (1967)
If there is a danger to the mother from continuing the pregnancy, one should permit abortion without hesitation. Also, if her health is poor and to cure her or to relieve her from great pain it is necessary to abort the fetus, even if she is not in actual danger, there is room to permit it, based on the halachic authority’s evaluation of the situation.
ברור ופשוט הדבר בהלכה דישראל אינו נהרג על העוברין, ומלבד דעה יחידית סוברים הפוסקים שאיסור מיהא ישנו, אבל דעת הרבה מהפוסקים שהאיסור אינו אלא מדרבנן, או הוא רק משום גדר בנינו של עולם, אבל מחמת איבוד נפשות אין נדנוד כלל, ומשום כך מתיר בשו"ת מהרי"ט ט:צ"ז–צ"ט לסדר בישראלית הפלת ולד בכל היכא שהדבר נחוץ משום רפואת אמו, אפילו באין סיבה של פקו"נ לאם... ובכזאת, ויותר מזאת, צידד להתיר בהדיא בשו"ת שאילת יעב"ץ א:מג, וכותב בלשון: "וגם בעובר כשר יש צד להקל לצורך גדול כל כמה דלא עקר אפילו אינו משום פקוח נפש אמו, אלא להציל לה מרעתו שגורם לה כאב גדול." הרי בהדיא שדבר הצעת ההיתר בזה של היעב"ץ הוא אפילו כשליכא בכאן שאלת פקו"נ של האם, והמדובר רק כדי להצילה מכאב גדול שיש לה בגללו, ושבכלל יש להקל בזה לצורך גדול. וא"כ הגע בעצמך האם יש צורך, צער וכאב, יותר גדול מזה של נידוננו, אשר יגרם לאם בהולד לה יצור כזה, שכולו אומר יסורים ומכאובים ומיתתו בטוח במשך מספר שנים, ועיני ההורים רואות וכלות באין לאל ידם להושיע? )וברור שלא משנה ולא מפחית כלום באם הילוד הזה ילקח למוסד מיוחד ולא יתנו גישה להורים עד מותו (. ומתוסף לזה פיתולי היסורים והמכאובים של היילוד בעצמו... ויסורים וכאבים נפשיים המה במדה מרובה הרבה יותר גדולים ויותר מכאיבים מיסורים גופיים...
Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer 13:102 (1978)
It is clear and obvious as law that a Jew is not killed for a fetus. Aside from one view, the authorities rule that there is a prohibition, but many authorities believe that this prohibition is rabbinic, or it is under “building the world.” But there is no concern for destroying a life, and therefore Maharit 1:97-99 permits arrangement for a Jewish woman to abort a fetus where it is needed for the mother’s health, even without it being a matter of saving the mother’s life… And in such a case, and beyond this, Rabbi Yaakov Emden permitted, writing, “And even with a legitimate fetus, there is room to be lenient for great need, so long as it has not been uprooted [for birth], even without a need to save the mother’s life, but only to save her from her evil, which causes her great pain.” We see clearly that this permission of Rabbi Yaakov Emden is even when it is not a matter of saving the mother’s life, and it is only to save her from great pain because of the child, and that in general there is room to be lenient for great need. If so, ask yourself: Is there any need, pain or ache greater than in our case, which will cause the mother in birthing such a creation, whose whole existence is suffering and pain, and whose death is certain in a matter of years, and whose parents watch and deteriorate without any power to save? (And certainly, it would not change or reduce anything if the child would be taken to a special institution without access for the parents until his death). And added to this are the suffering and pain of the child himself… And suffering and emotional pain in great measure are greater and more painful than physical pain…
Rabbi Kass Abelson, Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, pp. 3-10 (1980-5)
There is clear precedent in the tradition...to permit abortion of a fetus to save a mother’s life, to safeguard her health, or even for “a very thin reason,” such as to spare her physical pain or mental anguish.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, “Abortion: A Halakhic Perspective,” Tradition 25:4 (1991)
Here it is clear that saving a life is not the only sanction for permitting an abortion. This is evident from the Talmudic passage that permits a nursing mother to cohabitate using a mokh (a barrier of cotton or wool) to prevent pregnancy… Since this prohibition is waived to facilitate normal family relations (which is why the emission in this context is not “wasteful”), it would follow that other ethical and humane factors may also be taken into account. It would seem to me that issues such as kevod ha-beriyot (dignity of persons), shalom bayit (domestic peace) and tza’ar (pain), which all carry significant halakhic weight in other contexts, should be considered in making these decisions.
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