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Reproductive Rights

The pendulum on reproductive rights has swung once again in our lifetime. Where once women were able to make a wide range of choices, those choices are being narrowed. There is a strong push to go backward when it comes to the rights of women in regard to having autonomy over their own bodies. 

Under Jewish law, life does not begin at conception. The Talmud (Yevamot 69b) asserts that the fetus is “mere fluid” before 40 days of gestation. Following this period, the fetus is considered a physical part of the pregnant individual’s body (Gittin 23b), not yet having life of its own or independent rights. The fetus is not viewed as separate from the parent’s body until the onset of labor and childbirth — traditionally, not until the “head has emerged” during the birthing process (Mishnah Ohalot 7:6).

Jewish law does not consider a fetus to have the status of personhood. The Torah (Exodus 21:22–23) recounts a story of two men who are fighting and injure a pregnant woman, resulting in her subsequent miscarriage. The verse explains that if the only harm done is the miscarriage, then the perpetrator must pay a fine. However, if the pregnant person is gravely injured, the penalty shall be a life for a life, as in other homicides. The dominant rabbinical interpretation of this verse is that the men did not commit murder and that the fetus is not a person; it is treated as a situation that warrants financial damages for injury, not restitution for homicide. The primary concern is the well-being of the person who was injured — in this case, the pregnant individual.

The mitzvah of the week is to take the first step and to simply have a conversation about reproductive rights. 
We need to have an understanding of the issues before we can act. Let us start the discussion,
and then decide what more we can do. There is so much more to be done!

Past Mitzvot

Sun, December 4 2022 10 Kislev 5783