Study: Fasting on Yom Kippur doubles risk of premature birth


Fasting on Yom Kippur in the later stages of pregnancy doubles a woman’s risk for premature delivery, according to a new Israeli study.

Researchers at Soroka University Medical Center and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba reached the conclusion after studying the records of thousands of pregnant Jewish women over a period of 23 years, The Jerusalem Post reported. The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Maternal, Fetal and Neonatal Medicine.

The researchers theorized that dehydration and a lack of food lead to early labor pains.

The study used Bedouin women on the same dates and Jewish women a week before Yom Kippur as control groups. They also designed the study to exclude women with a history of premature deliveries.

Premature birth is defined as delivering a baby before it reaches 37 weeks.

 

The war zone


As the hourly barrages of rockets continue from Gaza to Israel, I can’t help but focus simultaneously on my own personal challenge, though it be of little significance in comparison- my big, hot, third trimester of pregnancy, showing all the signs of “advanced maternal age,” according to my doctor.  Feeling helpless and a world away from the conflict, I’ve tried to channel my physical difficulties into sympathy for those living in and trying to protect the Jewish State. 

The impetus for making these connections came when I began feeling guilty for complaining about little things like being unable to reach an itchy mosquito bite on my ankle, or having to refrain from pretty much anything fluffy and white, anything that’s not protein or brown rice (I call it torture-rice) due to gestational diabetes.  I’m pregnant with my fourth child, an experience that has been a far cry from my first pregnancy, fourteen years ago when my husband and I were living in Jerusalem.  I had the body of a twenty-three-year-old, a baby having a baby.  But I know that however great my discomfort now, however swollen my feet, however sharp the pains in my joints and lower back, I am safe. My family and I live a peaceful life in America and in times like these, when all I can do is hope and pray, I feel guilty for living under this relative safety when the Israelis are under attack.

With the heat and humidity of late July setting in, and my abdomen growing into a formidable thing that generally enters the room about thirty seconds before the rest of me, I’ve forced myself to use the constant discomfort as a reminder of what our brothers and sisters in Israel are facing on a daily basis.  When my legs puff up and rub together from the humidity, I am reminded of the inescapable desert heat the IDF must fight through.  When I see people in the park exercising and recall that it’s been many months since I dutifully shook whatever I was supposed to be shaking in Zumba class, I feel a deep sense of jealousy.  But then I realize there are fellow Jews spending entire days running back and forth from bomb shelters, fearing for their very lives.

While I consider my body its own kind of “war zone” right now, I know where the big difference lies.  I can count the weeks I have left on one hand.  I know this physical discomfort is a mere blip in the scheme of this lifecycle.  I know with certainty that my blood sugar will return to its normal levels and hopefully I’ll remember my old work-out routines well enough to shout “Zummmmbaaa” on cue with the rest of the undulating chicas

I wish I could say the same for our beloved Israel.  If only we had some sort of imminent guarantee of finality of the fighting and unending terror attacks. Despite the tremendous Jewish unity, acts of kindness, and extra Mitzvos performed across the world in the merit of the soldiers and Israeli’s, there is still no end in sight.  But for now, even if only to console myself, prayer, along with these small attempts at sympathy, this seemingly trivial alignment of my pain with theirs, is all I’ve got.  Kind of like the State of Israel.  As Jews, it too, is all we’ve got.

BioWeld1: Bye to stitches, staples


Women giving birth by Caesarean section could be the first to benefit from a revolutionary Israeli invention for closing surgical incisions without stitches or staples. The technique also promises to leave patients less prone to infection and scarring. BioWeld1, a unique trademarked product from Israeli startup IonMed, welds surgical incisions using cold plasma. 

Plasma is a gas in which a certain proportion of the particles are ionized. It has been shown to offer manifold benefits, including tissue welding, control of bleeding, enhancement of tissue repair, disinfection and destruction of cancer cells. However, plasma has enjoyed a limited role in surgery due to the high temperatures it creates and resulting harmful effects on body tissue. 

IonMed’s scientists found a way to make use of cold plasma as the power behind the BioWeld1. The procedure takes a few minutes, seals the area completely, leaves minimal scarring or painful stitches and does not require complex training.

“No one has done this before — and more than that, the platform of cold plasma is a technology that is not available in medicine yet,” said Ronen Lam, IonMed’s co-founder and vice president for business development. “We will probably be the first.” 

The company anticipates receiving the CE mark of approval in Europe by the end of the year. After closing its next financial round, IonMed would then look into beginning trials in Europe and in the United States toward getting approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and launching its next cold plasma-based product. 

BioWeld1 is the brainchild of Ronen’s brother, Amnon, who led development projects at Tower Semiconductor in northern Israel and at Intel’s Israeli research center. Prior to that, he’d been a medic in the military. His familiarity with cold plasma from Tower — where it was used for etching semiconductors — gave him the idea of welding together his two areas of expertise. Amnon Lam saw the potential of cold plasma in health care, and toyed with applications in cosmetics, dental and skincare. 

“At the end of the day, he found wound closure the most attractive one,” Ronen Lam said. That was about three years ago.

“Tissue reconnection has been done for thousands of years with sutures, and in recent years with staples and glues,” Lam said. “It is time for something new in this traditional market, and that’s why we decided to start here.” 

With half a million dollars in seed money from the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist, IonMed joined the Trendlines incubator in northern Israel and developed the concept to the point where it closed a $3 million financing round in 2011. The company now employs six people in its office in Yokne’am Ilit. 

Lam explained that many companies have been bringing advanced surgical staples and adhesives to the market. 

“But our cold plasma technology is unique because of its impact on tissues and the wide spectrum of applications it can address, so there is a lot of interest from big players,” he said.

The BioWeld1 generator delivers the cold plasma through a variety of disposable tips. The skin closure procedure is performed using a cold plasma jet to apply a trademarked biological film called Chitoplast to weld the tissue together. Other applications in development do not require Chitoplast and rely solely on the tissue effects of the plasma jet.

The company’s three clinical trials, which have so far focused on closure of Caesarean section incisions, showed BioWeld1 to be excellent for sealing the incision and promoting healing and tissue disinfection, Lam reported. It also has potential for reducing hospitalization and operating room usage.

“We are focusing on the Cesarean section first, because we found it will be the easiest path to market due to the importance of achieving a superior cosmetic result while reducing time in the operating room,” Lam said. 

“We are in the midst of strategic discussions right now in order to chart our next application. Areas under consideration include external closure in plastic surgery, treatment of chronic wounds as well as internal applications in abdominal, thoracic and colorectal surgery.”

Mother’s Day: The gift of responsibility


On Mother’s Day last year, I was already a couple of months into my pregnancy. Still, there could not have been a concept more foreign to me than the idea of being a mother. I was slow to comprehend the impending reality of motherhood, which I knew rendered me different from many women in my position — a realization that left me feeling alienated. Barely able to contain their excitement at having successfully begun the process of fruitful multiplication, many women by this point have already chosen names for their unborn babies and stenciled them on nursery walls, or purchased maternity clothing for a body whose changes are visible only to the woman herself, if at all. Some people even begin parenting classes immediately, frantically stocking their homes with baby gear about which they will one day say they can’t imagine living without. 

It would be an understatement to suggest I found neither joy nor comfort in such impulses. While it’s true that the pleasure I experienced upon learning I was pregnant remains one of the most deeply happy and moving moments of my life, my pleasure was intensely private. I experienced it quietly and intimately. And yet truly it never seemed quite real to me. Over the course of my pregnancy, no matter how large my body grew and no matter how searing its physical difficulties, I felt disconnected from the biological fact that I was going to be a mother. My husband and I spent hours talking about the incomprehensibility of what people call the miracle of childbirth — a miracle so mundane that it happens thousands of times a day to people all over the world.

Given its immutable pervasiveness, one would expect that pregnancy would be the most natural and comforting scenario in which a woman can find herself. Yet hovering alongside my joy was an unshakable feeling of horror that seemed to come from the realization that I knew virtually nothing about the next phase of my life. Certainly I was only enriching my life, adding to it rather than substituting one identity for another. Still, I imagined a precipice on which I was perched. Perhaps the fact that I was pregnant became most real to me when I learned that I was going to have a son — learning the sex of the fetus put flesh on the bones of any baby dreams I had dreamed.

But as the initial excitement mellowed, I was suddenly crushed under the realization, again, of how little I knew. It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea how to comb a little boy’s hair, for example, and that I was already poised to disappoint him in so many ways. To complicate matters, no amount of perusing the Web for guidance on what kinds of bottles or baby carriers to use would reveal the secret for discovering the perfect one. It became apparent to me that despite my breadth of scholarly knowledge in my professional life, I was lacking some crucial real-world insights, and I feared this lack would most certainly contribute to my son’s inevitable future delinquency.

As it turned out, the basic things come simply, proving the madness of our worrying. My son’s hair, for example — he was born with an abundance of it — fashioned itself into a dark, jutting faux hawk within hours of his escape from my womb. Five months later, I have little need for a comb. Still, the first couple of months as a new mother comprised the most difficult period of my life. Women are forced to learn quickly in these first weeks despite the emotional and physical residue of labor and childbirth, which is much more violent than anyone ever admits. But how can we be surprised? The world itself, wild and waste, came into being violently, through an ordering of chaos. But one day I woke up and realized that much of the turmoil had become more memory and less physical reality. And a new realization set in.

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at the University of Alaska Southeast as part of an honors symposium focusing on transgenerational trauma and memory. The symposium, organized by my friend and colleague Dr. Sol Neely, was built around a book by Gabriele Schwab called “Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma.” Schwab, a German woman, explores the trauma of both victims and perpetrators of collective tragedies, focusing specifically on the ways in which we — both individually and collectively — pass on violent histories for our children to inherit. I begin to question what kinds of violent histories and traumatic memories I am in a position to pass down to my own son. The nature of traumatic memories suggests that they are buried deep within the psychic archive, but given that we unknowingly transmit these histories to our children, every day I feel compelled to keep thinking through the question of my responsibility to my son. 

My own academic research on the writing of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas reminds me that I am not just infinitely responsible in an abstract kind of way. I am responsible not only for my son, but also for his responsibility. Strangely, I feel delighted underneath a burden so immense. The relationship of the parent and the child is the ethical relationship par excellence. As others have found, becoming a mother teaches me more about the nature of responsibility than any textbook or philosophical conference. And this is what I have always, insatiably, set out to do: to learn. I realize now that my concerns about whether I could comb my little boy’s hair or select the right cup holder for our stroller were masking more somber issues. What, exactly, is the nature of my responsibility to my son? What kinds of violent histories will I pass on to him? How do I teach him to respond ethically to these histories?

The Torah is full of advice for children in terms of how and how not to treat their parents. We are told to honor our parents, to refrain from disrespecting them, to fear them. The talmudists elaborate on this idea and tell us not to smite our parents, curse them, or rebel against their authority. The punishments for rebelling against these admonitions are often excruciating, sometimes calling even for death, though the talmudic rabbis seem to have found such pronouncements to be a bit harsh. Still, the biblical regard for how children should treat their parents is unflinchingly clear, even if honoring one’s parents is referred to as the most difficult mitzvah.

The teachings become murkier with regard to parents’ responsibilities to their children. In fact a cursory reading of Jewish texts might lead one to believe that the Torah has little interest in delineating the responsibilities of parents in relation to their children. Certainly (and thankfully!) there is even less interest in mapping out various forms of capital punishment in response to parents who fall short in their responsibilities. Yes, of course, we’re told (by way of both Torah and talmudic texts) to teach them the ways of Torah and mitzvot, to impart to them the story of Sinai, to marry them off to other Jews, to circumcise our sons. But sometimes I wonder if the immensity of the parental responsibility to children isn’t somewhat downplayed. In fact, I’m not convinced that honoring one’s parents is the most difficult mitzvah in light of what it means to teach our children the way of Torah, a far greater challenge given that it cannot, in one lifetime, ever be fully taught.

The big question, of course, has to do with what it means to begin to teach Torah — because all we can do is begin to teach Torah. The talmudic story of the convert addressing the great Hillel (who admonishes the man, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others”) has long been the lens through which I understand Torah. If we learn nothing else in Torah, we learn the value of responsibility, of the value in treating others with kindness, and dignity, and respect. But responsibility also means taking account of the histories that we inherit and the legacies of suffering and violence of which we are a part, regardless of our proximity to them. Responsibility means beginning to acknowledge them.

I may not have participated directly in slavery or in the Native-American genocide, but as an American I inherit the culpability for these violent moments in our shared history. They are part of my national legacy, and if teaching Torah means teaching my son to be responsible and to respond ethically, then it means teaching him how to take ownership of these kinds of events. It means teaching him to be the kind of person who insists that such violence does not become part of a future legacy.  The American novelist William Faulkner famously said the “past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It’s important to me that my son understand this idea so that he cannot but respond to the call to responsibility to which, in Levinas’ words, we are all summoned.

The transmission of personal histories of violence and trauma can be more complex. It’s strangely easy to acknowledge my responsibility for events to which I am only indirectly connected. And it becomes even more complicated when a history of violence contains moments where one is both perpetrator and victim. As I sift through the remnants of my own childhood, a couple of key moments are difficult to forget.

When I was little, my sleep difficulties were no less pronounced than they are today in my 30s. I have vivid memories of being alone in the dark of my room, waiting for the house to quiet so that I could walk the halls and experience being in my home as if I were the only one. On one such night, I walked quietly down a carpeted hallway and heard my father’s voice call out from my parents’ bedroom. “Stop. Don’t move or I’ll kill you.” I couldn’t have been more than 7 years old, but I knew that this was the voice of trauma, a trauma that took the shape of both victim and perpetrator. My father, a veteran, incurred serious PTSD from his time in the Vietnam War, particularly his time on Ap Bia Mountain, in what would notoriously be named the Battle of Hamburger Hill. There are very few honors that he didn’t receive — medals for honor, valor, bravery. But he was also wounded physically on this hill. He lost friends and fellow soldiers. He lost the young man he once was. In some ways, I don’t think he ever fully came home. And though he has shared stories with us throughout our lives, we, his family, can never truly be there with him. And this is part of what I have inherited — sadness, because I will never be able to connect with my father on this fundamental level, because I will never really know him since I will never understand the trauma that has shaped him. His memories are violent, and they both are and are not ours. Such is the nature of inherited histories. He shared them with his five children often, but as is the case with testimony, what remains unspoken — what is impossible to say — becomes the dominant mode of narrative, the mode that says the most. And so I knew, that night in the dark hallway, to be still and to wait until I heard the deep breaths of sleep resume before I crept along.

Wartime scenarios are particularly complex, as soldiers can become ensnared in the role of both victim and perpetrator. I grew up under the shadow of this tension, and because of that I’m conscious of the ways I’ve inherited the violence. Schwab’s book talks briefly about how children of people coming from one violent or traumatic event often focus their energies on other traumatic events. It’s as if trauma or violence becomes embedded in a child’s identity, and knowing that the trauma of their parents is inaccessible, they reach for an understanding of one to which they are less directed. Here my very early fixation on the Holocaust makes even more sense. My parents were wildly successful in creating a fun and happy home for their children, but as we grow older my siblings and I cannot help but identify the ways in which we also have been shaped by my father’s complex history.

As I marvel how the multiple facets of my life and identity have been molded by the histories that precede me, I begin to take even more seriously the burden of responsibility that accompanies motherhood. I think lately of a passage by Alicia Suskin Ostriker in “The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions”: “I vowed that my son would not, if I could help it, be a soldier or a violent man. I hoped he would be a gentle person and good lover. I wanted to love him in a way which would increase and multiply, a ripple effect, when he undertook his life in the world. This too I suppose was a form of control, a mother trying to influence the course of history through her son.” I cannot help but find resonance in her words, but I would also add to them.

I want my son to say, “Here I am.” But I know that I have to show him how to do that, how to say that. I have to model what it looks like to be responsible not just for my own actions, but for the history that I have inherited as a human being, an American and a Jew. 

Monica Osborne is a writer and professor of Jewish studies with the Glazer Institute at Pepperdine University.

Lying for the cause


There are many admirable values. The list includes, of course, goodness, integrity and compassion.

But there is one value without which civilization cannot survive, and without which evil is inevitable: truth.

I cannot think of a 20th-century evil not predicated on lies. It was years (if not centuries) of lying about Jews that enabled the Holocaust to take place. Otherwise, “ordinary men,” to use the title of historian Christopher Browning’s work on the perpetrators of the Holocaust, would not have slaughtered Jewish men, women, not to mention children and babies, had they not been brainwashed into believing that Jews were not human and were the source of Germany’s and the world’s problems.

The same with communism. Every communist regime was totalitarian — meaning, among other things, that it controlled what was deemed true. The Soviet Communist Party newspaper was therefore named “Pravda,” the Russian word for truth. But there was no pravda in Pravda.

Given the horrors that result from lies (I am referring largely to societal lies; in personal life, there are times when truth is not the highest value, such as when maintaining shalom bayit, peace in the home, or when lying to a murderer to save an innocent’s life), one would think that more people would value it. But not many do.

And the reason is simple: Most people think that their cause is more important than telling the truth.

The most recent example occurred this past weekend when Congressman Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was asked about his position on abortion for women who had become pregnant as a result of rape. The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Missouri responded, in part, that “from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy as a result of a rape] is really rare …  the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now, if a lie is something one knows to be untrue, then, technically speaking, Rep. Akin wasn’t telling a lie. After all, he claimed that he understood this “from doctors”– and it is quite possible that someone did tell him that some doctors had made that claim.

What we have here, rather than a lie in that technical sense, are two other, more common assaults on truth:

First is the lack of desire to know the truth in order for the individual to continue to believe what he wants to believe, even when, as in the Akin claim, it is obviously absurd. Mr. Akin is undoubtedly familiar with the massive amount of rape committed by victorious armies throughout history. Does he believe that almost none of the victims got pregnant? And is he not aware of the tragedy of the women of Darfur raped by Sudanese Arab soldiers — and then abandoned by their families for getting pregnant out of wedlock?

As a member of the United States Congress, he surely knows about such things. So, what we have here is reason number one for the assault on truth: People believe what they want to believe more than they want to know, let alone assert, the truth.

And why this lack of desire to know the truth? 

The answer brings us to the second reason so many people don’t value truth: Their cause is always higher than truth telling. It’s permissible to lie on behalf of one’s noble cause (and what cause isn’t noble in the cause-holders’ eyes?)

I’ll give another conservative example: the claim that viewing pornography leads to rape. While many feminists also make this claim, it is mostly associated with religious conservatives. That the claim is patently false is easily demonstrated. First, the countries with the most lax laws governing pornography have the least rape, and many of the countries that ban pornography have the highest rates of sexual and other physical abuse of women. Second, the vast majority of men who look at pornographic images have never, and would never, commit rape. The fact that virtually all rapists have viewed porn is as meaningless as the fact that virtually all rapists are meat eaters.

But for many religious conservatives who regard pornography as a major sin against God, and feminists who regard it as major sin against women, truth telling is less important than their cause — fighting pornography.

This phenomenon is at least as common on the left. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made up the false charge that Jared Loughner, the mentally deranged man who tried to kill former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (and killed six others) did so because of Republican Party hate rhetoric. Why did Krugman write this lie? Because it served his great cause: demonizing the right.

And progressives in California’s legislature have passed laws governing what goes into history textbooks from elementary school through high school — a certain amount of space must be allotted to blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered. For many progressives, making students feel good about their ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation is more important than historical truth.

So, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approaching, here’s a suggestion for any rabbi searching for a High Holy Day sermon topic: The primary importance of truth telling. Lies built Auschwitz.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Opinion: Thank you Planned Parenthood


Amid all the hubris and rancor flying around the subject of women’s reproductive rights these days, I suggest we stop for a moment and send a word of thanks to Planned Parenthood for its 100 years of caring for both women and men with nowhere else to turn — almost 50 of those years in Los Angeles.

This venerable organization is well known for offering every kind of gynecological care, including birth control and, in a small percentage of cases, when requested, terminating unwanted pregnancies. But it also performs vasectomies for men,  and sex education for middle- and high-school students — including peer-advocate programs — as well as parent and adult education. 

At Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, for example, Planned Parenthood set up a clinic inside the school. In a single semester before the clinic, there were 34 positive pregnancy tests among students. In the semester after Planned Parenthood arrived, just three students became pregnant. And those benefits are both short- and long-term: Think of the teens whose futures were saved, who did not have to face the choice of having an abortion or aborting their own childhood.  Think also of the public money saved on medical care for the teen mom and public programs for the unintended child. Roosevelt is living evidence that even a single office can have dramatic results, while the absence of intervention is extremely costly, both financially and emotionally.

And yet, Planned Parenthood has become the new curse word for some on the campaign trail, as well as among Catholic bishops and on the pulpits of some churches. Mystifying as it might seem, the question of women’s reproductive rights — birth control — is coming under fire. And it’s not just the “old dudes” who are fussing, as Jon Stewart so aptly suggested Monday night in a segment brilliantly titled “The Vagina Ideologues.” Women, including Sarah Palin, have jumped on board, too. (It is worth noting, however, that while still governor, in 2009, Palin reportedly appointed a Planned Parenthood board member to the Alaska Supreme Court. Go figure).

So, in light of all this, I made a visit last week to Planned Parenthood’s Los Angeles headquarters, realizing I had no idea what it’s like to go there. The headquarters are located in a bright-blue building on 30th Street, just south of downtown, not far from the USC campus. They’ve recently renovated an industrial structure, and while I sat waiting in the lobby for my guide, I was struck by how pleasant it was to be there —  everyone coming into the offices that morning greeted one another with big smiles. Perhaps it’s the leadership, or maybe the sense of purpose in the workplace.

I toured the clinic, one of 18 Planned Parenthood health care centers in Los Angeles. It is well appointed and well thought-through: Recovery rooms, for example, allow for lots of sun, because light can help in healing.  There were also plenty of private consultation rooms for doctors, conference rooms for classes, a library for resource materials, and, most interesting, the call room, where the initial contact with clients for all the centers is made.

Rocio Ayala, the customer service center manager, heads the couple of dozen phone screeners, who collectively take between 2,000 and 2,400 calls each day. That’s about 100 calls per screener per day, each call lasting about two minutes, Ayala said — and those minutes can change lives. All the operators are required to be fluent in both English and Spanish, and they have easy access to interpreters for every other possible language clients might use. Ayala, who is Latino, told me that many of the callers are seeking health care for the first time in their lives: “We’re the place that people can turn to when nobody else can help them.” Planned Parenthood takes health insurance, but it also offers services and birth control for little or for free, depending upon need. For the uninsured, out-of-pocket birth control can average around $50 per month, not affordable for those on the poverty line, said Serena Josel, deputy director of the L.A. offices. “For 60 percent of our patients,” she said, “we are their primary care provider.”

Sue Dunlap, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles, has been with the organization for 13 years. She said the current controversy doesn’t surprise her, though she did sound a bit weary of the attacks on the organization’s mission. After all, she pointed out, studies have found that 99 percent of sexually active women in the United States use some form of birth control at some point. And one in five women in the United States will utilize the resources of Planned Parenthood in their lifetime. I can say anecdotally I know this to be true, based on my own women friends, Jewish friends included, who’ve gone there at one point or another in their lives — while short on cash for a doctor or just not knowing where to turn.

(For the record, Jewish law permits abortion in some circumstances, even requires it when the mother’s life is in danger, and birth control is permitted for married couples as long as the mitzvah of having children is also part of the plan. Some forms of birth control, such as the pill, are preferred over others, because they do not block or destroy the seed.)

The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing reproductive health worldwide, reports that 1.6 billion women worldwide are of childbearing age, 62 million of them in the United States, and that the average age that Americans have sex for the first time is 17. Given all that, the issue of containing unwanted pregnancies must be a burning concern for us all.  More and more people are seeking help from Planned Parenthood in recent years, Dunlap said, and that’s because the economy has made them more “deliberate about having access to contraception.”

So why are we even talking about Planned Parenthood except in glowing terms?

“I wish I still found it surprising,” Dunlap said. “I do find it shocking. I hope there will come a time when we say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ” She is especially concerned for the younger generation, who don’t realize that they “can’t take access to birth control for granted,” she said.

“This is access to basic care.”

Should frozen sperm be used to create posthumous grandchildren?


Last fall, 27-year-old Ohad Ben-Yaakov was injured in an accident at his part-time job, and he died after two weeks in a coma. Ben-Yaakov wasn’t married, nor was he in a relationship. No woman was pregnant with his child.

Nevertheless, his devastated parents believe it’s not too late for them to become the grandparents of his offspring. And because they live in Israel, the world capital of in-vitro fertilization and a country that regularly pushes the envelope on reproductive technologies, they might get their wish.

Mali and Dudi Ben-Yaakov, upon learning that their son was brain dead, had his sperm extracted. Now they are awaiting the decision of Israel’s attorney general on whether they will be permitted to find a woman to bear their grandchild.

“If we were entitled to donate the organs of our son, why are we not entitled to make use of his sperm in order to bring offspring to the world?” they asked in Haaretz.

If their petition succeeds, it will be the latest legal and cultural innovation in a country that already has embraced the idea of posthumous parenthood and come closer than any other to acknowledging a right to grandparenthood.

It’s not surprising that Israel, a society that is at once rooted in ancient faith and deeply invested in cutting-edge technology, has pioneered futuristic forms of procreation. The biblical emphasis on fruitfulness, when compounded by the legacy of the Holocaust and the demographic issues shaping the Middle East, have made Israeli society and public policy exceptionally pro-natalist.

The country is aggressive in pushing the boundaries of reproductive technology. It has the world’s highest IVF rate: According to a 2006 paper prepared for the Knesset, 1,800 treatment cycles are performed each year per million people, compared to 240 in the United States. Its specialists are among the best on earth, and health insurance there covers unlimited IVF attempts up to the birth of two live children. Israel was the first country in the world to legalize surrogate-mother agreements.

Meanwhile, in a country where almost every family sees its children join the military, there’s a hunger for anything that might salve the anguish of losing a son or daughter. Posthumous reproduction can seem like one more weapon in the ancient Jewish struggle for ongoing existence.

Irit Rosenblum, the feminist lawyer representing the Ben-Yaakov family, says that “It’s an idea of continuation. It’s a dream. Magic.”

Some feminists and scholars, though, are troubled by Israel’s culture of boundary-pushing reproductive technology. Quite aside from the issue of postmortem fatherhood, the combination of state subsidies and intense pressure to have children can lead infertile Israeli women to endure many more IVF attempts than they might elsewhere.

Whereas women in the United States might undergo several cycles, says Wendy Chavkin, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, “Israel is the only place I know of where people can have 17,” although no one knows the long-term effects of such treatment on a woman’s body.

Then there is the psychological toll.

“It used to be, God forbid you were infertile, it was sad and terrible and tragic, but you came to terms with it,” says Susan Martha Kahn, a Harvard anthropologist and author of “Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel.” “Now you can never come to terms with it. There’s no resolution. Some of these women go through round after round, 12, 15 rounds of IVF, and it doesn’t work. That is the eclipse of an entire young life spent trying to get pregnant.”

Creating children from the sperm of the dead adds further philosophical complexity to the tangle of issues around IVF. When must tragedy be accepted instead of combated with the full arsenal of our technology? Who gets to decide?

“Where we are with reproductive technologies is a result of the fact that we have refused to accept infertility as a fact,” says Vardit Ravitsky, an Israeli-born assistant professor in the bioethics programs at the University of Montreal faculty of medicine. “Today, the idea that I have a right to have a genetic child is much more accepted than in the past. To extend that one generation to genetic grandchildren maybe is not that farfetched.”

Ravitsky was a participant in the Israeli Ministry of Justice discussions that led to the country’s guidelines on posthumous reproduction issued in 2003. The guidelines were notable for allowing a dead man’s wife or partner to access his sperm as long as he didn’t leave explicit instructions to the contrary.

“This notion of presumed consent, that we can assume that a man would want to have genetic children after his death, that was really pushing the envelope at the time in comparison with other countries,” says Ravitsky. But the ministry refused to allow a man’s mother or father similar access, concluding that parents have no legal standing regarding their children’s fertility, “[n]ot in their lifetime, and certainly not when they are dead.”

For years Rosenblum, the Ben-Yaakovs’ lawyer, has been fighting to give bereaved parents in Israel the power that the guidelines denied them.

In 2001, she campaigned for the Israeli army to adopt what she called a biological will, offering soldiers the option of freezing their sperm or eggs in order to see their lineage continue in the event of their death. Though the army rejected the idea, it received media attention.

Then, one night the following year, Rosenblum got a phone call from a hysterical woman. Her son, 19-year-old Keivan Cohen, had just been killed by a sniper in Gaza. His mother wanted the hospital to save his sperm, which can survive for 72 hours after death. The woman had read about Rosenblum and begged for her help.

Rosenblum rushed to file an affidavit and succeeded in having the young man’s sperm extracted.

Through a newspaper ad, Cohen’s parents found a woman who was planning on becoming a single mother and who liked the ideas of using a known donor and also of ensuring that her baby would have supportive grandparents. But with no written instructions from Cohen, the hospital keeping his sperm refused to release it. Following a long legal battle, a Tel Aviv court in 2007 ruled in his family’s favor.

So far, the potential mother’s IVF treatments have not been successful, though attempts are ongoing. But Rosenblum retains an almost giddy faith in the ability of technology to triumph over cruelties of nature and fate.

Speaking of Cohen’s mother, she says, “No psychiatrist can help this kind of a woman to recover from the loss of her son. But this is giving a new hope. It’s unbelievable. It brings her back to life.”

Of course, there is something unsettling in this desire to create a child to compensate for the loss of another. Many of our earliest and our most enduring myths warn against the hubristic human desire to transcend the forces of life and death.

On a practical level, if posthumous reproduction and a right to grandparenthood become common, they could create intolerable pressure on surviving partners, who might feel obliged to bear a dead man’s children rather than start a new life with a new husband or boyfriend.

Ravitsky cites a case in which the partner and parents of a deceased man went together to access his sperm and “the medical team had the impression that the young woman was being pressured.” The woman eventually decided not to go through with it, but others might not be strong enough to say no, whatever their own doubts.

At the same time, new reproductive innovations have a sinister sci-fi air at first, until they are folded into everyday life. A 1974 Chicago Tribune article about what were then called test-tube babies asked, “Is 1984 already here?” and suggested that the technology could lead to the “creation of a slave race.”

These days, IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies are routine and unremarkable. Few find it shocking when single women seek sperm donors to parent alone. If the babies born to such women have two sets of grandparents to welcome them into the world, that would make their lives more traditional rather than less.

Ravitsky says she is troubled by the idea of a society in which “whenever a young man loses his life in his 20s, the expectation is that his parents will use his sperm to create genetic grandchildren.”

But she also sees cases where the interests of would-be single mothers and of heartsick parents align. During the discussion leading to the Ministry of Justice guidelines, those who had lost their children came forward to plead for the right to grandparenthood.

“I remember really being struck by an elderly father who lost his son in the army who spoke before the committee with tears in his eyes and talked about what it would mean to him to have grandchildren, and the grief he had about the fact that at the time his son died, the technique wasn’t there to extract sperm,” Ravitsky says. “I remember thinking we should think outside the box here. It’s too simple to just say no.”

Reprinted from Tabletmag.com, a new read on Jewish life.

Prop. 73: The Devil’s in the Details


When Californians go to the polls on Nov. 8, many will read Proposition 73 as a proposal to require that health care providers perform the seemingly logical task of informing parents before performing abortions on underage girls.

But the considered opinions of doctors and Juvenile Court judges, as well as a look at the actual text of Proposition 73, reveal that the initiative is fraught with adverse ramifications for virtually all Californians. It also poses particular issues for the Jewish community.

Much of the literature against Proposition 73 correctly emphasizes that many teenage girls will seek underground abortions, rather than have their parents (or guardians, foster parents or other legal designees) learn that they are pregnant. Thus, under the banner, “Protect California’s Teens,” a Planned Parenthood Web page urges that defeating Proposition 73 is essential to ensuring that desperate teenagers retain access to safe and legitimate medical care.

This emphasis is entirely appropriate. But there’s more to object to in this ballot initiative. One of the proposition’s most troubling aspects lies within the fine print. Proposition 73 amends the California Constitution to define abortion as a procedure ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born.”

This radical definition has profound implications not only for teens, but also for adult women. And this carefully calculated wording should be of particular interest to the Jewish community.

Many Jewish couples undergo genetic screening as part of family planning. Those of us who learn we are dual carriers of genetic mutations (e.g., Tay Sachs) know there is a one in four chance of conceiving a child afflicted with the disease.

Couples who face this risk make the wrenching choice of attempting to have a biological child, while also taking the precaution of undergoing testing after conception. Diagnosis is possible through either chorionic villus sampling 10 to 12 weeks into the pregnancy or amniocentesis in the second trimester. Couples choose such procedures with the hope of having a healthy baby.

But typically, they also have resolved to terminate a pregnancy that would, if carried to term, bring forth a child doomed to endure unconscionable suffering ending in early death. A couple that follows this course of action sometimes has the blessing of Orthodox rabbis who would ordinarily oppose abortion.

Amending California’s Constitution to define abortion as ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born” has profound implications for adult Jewish couples that rely on pregnancy testing. The proposition’s language would, in effect, shorten the road to outlawing abortion.

Indeed, that appears to be the aim of James Holman, the San Diego millionaire who backed Proposition 73 with $800,000, most of which went to paid signature gatherers to get the initiative onto the ballot. In line with his devout, conservative beliefs, Holman has expressed opposition to contraception, as well as to abortion apparently under all circumstances, including rape and incest.

Defining abortion as terminating the life of “a child that is conceived but not yet born” also could undermine the legality of stem cell research, perhaps the most promising scientific frontier of the 21st century. Here again, the medical implications are heightened for those of us in the Jewish community who recognize that stem cell research may herald the cures for degenerative diseases linked with genetic markers prevalent among us.

This subtle but intentional groundwork for outlawing abortion is reason enough for opposing Proposition 73, but even at face value, this measure would do more harm than good. It is opposed by Planned Parenthood, of course, and other pro-choice organizations, but also by California Women Lawyers, a statewide organization that promotes the general interests of women in society, as well as the California League of Women Voters.

Women’s advocacy organizations are correct to cite the dangers to teens posed by parental notification initiatives. Indeed, efforts to decriminalize abortion in the 1970s were largely spearheaded by doctors, lawyers, and clergy who knew only too well that making abortion illegal did not prevent abortion, but simply made the procedure lethal to many women who sought out illegal abortions.

Today, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all oppose parental notification laws, citing the risk to teens. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mandating parental notification does not achieve the intended goal of family communication, but does increase the risk of harm by delaying access to appropriate medical care.

Parental notification is also opposed by Bill and Karen Bell, who lost their daughter to an illegal abortion in 1988. Although Becky Bell belonged to a loving Indianapolis family, this high school junior pursued an underground abortion, rather than tell her parents. The Bells never had the chance to tell their daughter they were not, after all, angry at her.

Instead, they became outraged at the parental notification law, operative in Indiana, that compelled their daughter to resort to the underground abortion that claimed her life. In the wake of their family tragedy, the Bells became activists against parental notification laws.Proposition 73 contains a supposed answer in its “judicial bypass provision,” which would enable teens to seek court orders excusing health care providers from the parental notification requirement in appropriate circumstances. This provision is unrealistic and unreasonably cumbersome both for teenagers and the courts, which is why Juvenile Court judges have gone on record against it.

To activate this provision, California courts would have to appoint guardians ad litem to speak on behalf of teenagers and, in most cases, to appoint lawyers for the minors, as well. In sum, the law would impose a mandate upon all courts, with no source of funding to carry it out.

Like many of my colleagues on the California Women Lawyers board, my personal choices were for marriage and children. I hope, want and expect that my daughters will come to me, however reluctantly, if they became pregnant unexpectedly. But a sweeping parental notification requirement will affect all families, including vulnerable teenagers in broken and abusive families.

As the tragic example of Becky Bell reminds us, even girls in “good” families may resort to underground abortions. And, a close examination of Proposition 73 makes clear that its language and intentions strike far closer to home than many of us previously thought possible in California.

The Jewish community — and everyone else — should oppose Proposition 73 not only because it is bad for teenage girls we may never meet, but also because it is bad — and dangerous — for adults, including ourselves.

Angela J. Davis is president-elect of California Women Lawyers, an independent bar association that advocates on public-policy issues.

 

The Mohel’s Wife


When I congratulated “Julie” at her son’s bris, I couldn’t believe that she looked better than I did at my wedding. Like most of the other women attending the ritual circumcision, we were amazed that anyone could be so put together eight days after giving birth. Trim and graceful with manicured nails and perfect make-up, Julie went out of her way to insist that I sample the blintz soufflé on the elaborate buffet table, making me highly doubtful that this could be the same woman who had just shared her horror story describing 30 hours of excruciating labor — and four of them were spent pushing!

Women like Julie shouldn’t shock me anymore but somehow they still do. As the wife of a mohel, I have seen them all. From moms who fit into their pre-pregnancy Size-6 suits to others who still generously fill their maternity clothes that make me wonder if they already had the baby, meeting new mothers is routine as grocery shopping.

Milah, Jewish ritual circumcision, permeates my home in uncanny ways. During dinner, it is our favorite conversation opener, and the autoclave my husband uses to sterilize his instruments has piqued the interests of many of our guests, wondering if we use it to sterilize our baby’s bottle nipples as well. While I am trying to watch my weight, my husband jumps at the opportunity to get ice cream at the local Carvel because his favorite surgical supply store is on the way.

One of the best perks of living with a resident mohel is when I accidentally cut myself in the kitchen and my husband runs for his gauze pads and polysporin. After all, healing a wound is his forte and bandages are his passion. I must be one of the only women in the world who has had avkas bris, a white powder manufactured in Jerusalem especially for mohels, sprinkled on her kitchen cut.

More than anything, as a mohel’s wife, I have gained a profound appreciation for the role of a new mom. I am always amazed that — eight days after giving birth to a boy, when she is sore from pushing, exasperated from a lack of sleep, nervous her newborn is not eating, irritated by her aching breasts, annoyed with the wobbly doughnut that has replaced her stomach and often recovering from routine surgical procedures, such as a C-section or an episiotomy (not to mention she’s post-partum and definitely hormonal) — a new mother is expected to entertain guests at her son’s bris when the last thing she wants to do is get dressed. No matter how sensitive the mohel is, a mom still emotionally raw from the experience of giving birth is pulled by polar opposites: the innate need to mother her baby and the social obligation of putting on a happy face while her son goes through minor surgery.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I wondered if I would be able to live up to the legacy so many amazing women have placed before me. I doubted I could be like Melissa who delivered twin boys (non-C-section) and showed up at her synagogue’s social hall eight days later as cool as Jackie O. in a mint-colored moiré. Or like Shira who, after greeting her guests, made sure the caterer wrapped up the extra food for a charity in order that none of it to go to waste. I definitely couldn’t follow in the footsteps of Dena who not only attended the early morning prayer services, but gave a 10-minute speech during the meal following the bris.

A month before my due date, my husband and I discussed the details of a bris just in case we were having a boy. Of course we knew which mohel to use, but other aspects require more planning. During our research, I found myself wishing I belonged to the group of Chasidic women where a new mother customarily stays at home while her son’s bris takes place in the synagogue. To be relieved of the pressure to entertain when all I would want to do is nest appealed to me as an unorthodox and refreshing idea. But what would the spirit of a bris be like without the mother in attendance? Without her smiling countenance and nervously clasped hands? Without her joyful tears and runny mascara?

Although we spent evenings contemplating the perfect bris, comparing small affairs with elaborate ones, making a guest list and then crossing out half the names only to realize it was still too large, we never found an ideal solution. In the beginning of our discussions, the idea of creating an environment where a new mother can feel comfortable attending — yet free of pressure to play the role of hostess — seemed attainable. But when my water broke two weeks early, I was disheartened that my image of a picture-perfect bris was still fingertips out of our reach.

So when I gave birth to a girl and blissfully didn’t leave my house for the first three weeks, I was grateful for the opportunity to bide my time, wondering if, perhaps with my next baby, I will be up to making a bris.

Felisa Billet is a freelance writer living in Forest Hills, N.Y.

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Moms-to-Be Seek Religion Reconnect


Shlepping around with swollen feet, a growing belly and mounting exhaustion is a challenge for any mom-to-be, but Beth Saltz is determined to go to Shabbat services as often as she can for the rest of her pregnancy.

“I feel I need to do it now before the baby is born,” said Saltz, a Woodland Hills resident who is five and a half months pregnant with her first child. “Sometimes parents don’t work on their own spirituality and beliefs until the child is older, but I think it’s important to do it now.”

At this turning point in her life, Saltz views Judaism as more important than ever — and she’s not alone.

While some parents experience a religious awakening when their children enter school, many others feel that “Jewish nesting” instinct before the child is even born.

Leslye Adelman has seen it again and again in her role as a Jewish Lamaze instructor at The Parent Place at The New JCC at Milken in West Hills.

“What I have found is that women often have this tremendous longing because they want to get Jewish tradition back in their life,” Adelman said.

Many of her students are women who once had a stronger connection to Judaism. For some, this bond weakened as they left home, became adults and forged an independent life. They want to find this Jewish connectedness again, she said, and develop it further.

“They want [Judaism] back in their life now that they’re having a baby,” she said.

Nearing her eighth month of pregnancy, Kimberly Swartzburg, 36, is thinking about joining a temple.

“My husband and I have kind of gotten away from religion because our lives got very busy,” the Westlake Village resident said. Swartzburg wants her son-to-be to have a strong sense of Jewish identity.

Rachel Spalding, another expectant mother, wants to give her child the strong Jewish upbringing she lacked.

“I was raised with very little sense of Jewish community and Jewish education and I think that was a loss,” the Sherman Oaks resident said.

Adelman said such feelings are common among pregnant Jewish women. Most of her students struggle with concerns around instilling a sense of Jewish identity, she said.

“They say, ‘My parents shoved it down my throat and I don’t want to do that to my child,’ or ‘I didn’t have much religion when I was growing up, and I don’t want to deny my child their opportunity,'” Adelman noted.

Since the birth of her first child two years ago, Colleen Douglas, who grew up in an interfaith household, has pondered how best to express her connection with Judaism. She and her husband “feel Judaism is more about being a good person and less about having to go to a place to pray and to have something told to you about what you should be,” said Douglas, who lives in Studio City.

These feelings were only reinforced when she was pregnant with her second child, Gage, who is now a few weeks old.

Since Judaism includes early-life traditions like a brit milah and a baby-naming, it’s no wonder that Jewish mothers-to-be find themselves pondering religion as well as the relation of religion to practical post-birth issues.

Spalding is considering whether she wants a baby-naming for her daughter-to-be, which, for her, raises the question of choosing a rabbi to perform the ceremony.

Saltz and her husband have chosen an English name for their child; they are working on selecting a Hebrew name.

Swartzburg plans to have her son circumcised at the hospital rather than having a brit milah, but she is planning a naming down the line.

Judaism can even play a role at delivery, said Natalie Weiss, a West Hollywood childbirth educator who teaches the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth.

“For some women,” Weiss said, “their faith can help give them strength when they’re having contractions.”

For information on Jewish Lamaze classes, call (818) 464-3333.

In the Pink


I’m almost fully pregnant. There’s not much for me to do. We’re about two weeks away from having a baby girl and I haven’t gained a pound. I feel fine. Never better. Thanks for asking.

We went to a picnic the other day. A woman with a 3-year-old girl told us “your life is going to change.” Stop the presses! This is my first child, but it is not my first encounter with children. The notion that my life was about to change had entered my mind over the past several months.

We were standing in line for the buffet and the little girl asked the woman for a plate. I said, “Amy and I have talked about that, and we decided that we’re not going to let the baby disrupt our lives any more than necessary — she’ll just have to get used to us and our schedule. We don’t want to have to turn down the music at the many parties we have, and we’re not comfortable telling our friends not to smoke in the house. We agreed that we’ll teach her some survival skills for a couple of years, but after that, she’s on her own. We think it will foster a healthy sense of independence and self-esteem.”

At this point in my rant the little girl drops the plate on the ground, breaking it into a hundred pieces. Naturally, she wasn’t wearing any shoes and had to be whisked away to safety — and someone went to find a broom.

“That will never happen with us!” I shouted over the ensuing chaos.

I walked past the window of a toy store the other day and it was like staring into a crystal ball into my future. I have seen the future, friends, and my future is pink.

I saw the Wiggles, Elmo, Clifford, Power Rangers and Pokemon, Powerpuff Girls and Hello! Kitty (anything, Lord, but not that cancerous talking eggplant called Barney).

I saw all of the new Bobby Shermans and Justins and Brads, whose images will adorn our walls, who we’ll come to know and love and hate.

I saw hundreds and hundreds of diapers. I saw drying off after thousands of baths, putting on clothes and shoes and taking them off again. I saw all the shoes and school supplies and medicine. I saw all the keys to all the hotel rooms we’ll stay in on vacations, and all the Do Not Disturb signs we’ll take home with us. I saw all the times I’ll have to punish her.

I saw all the dance recitals, Saturday soccer games, Sunday school classes, swimming lessons, tennis lessons, music lessons and parents’ nights.

I saw a place called LEGOLAND, Minnie Mouse, the CDs by whatever the next incarnation of the Spice Girls-Britney-Hilary turns out to be.

I saw all the nurses and nannies, the babysitters, doctors, teachers, camp counselors, coaches, tutors, professors and bosses. I saw all the friends she’ll make, good ones and not so good ones, and all the parents of those same kids that we’ll meet along the way who will become our friends. I saw all the cliques and teams and clubs.

All the toys and dolls and video games that are so critically important on the shelf that will be so neglected after the box is opened. All the card games we’ll have to endure until she gets up to speed in Gin Rummy; the board games and jigsaw puzzles with all their missing pieces.

I saw how many times I’d blow it as her dad.

I heard myself saying things like: Sit up. Sit down. Come here. Use your indoor voice. Pick that up. Put that down. Hurry up. Slow down. You don’t get dessert until you eat that. Don’t eat that. Three more bites. Say please. Say thank you. What do you say? Ask Mommy. Kiss your Grammy. Say bye-bye.

I heard myself saying those things a hundred times.

I saw her say, “You’re not the boss of me.”

What I couldn’t see was, of all the dolls in this store, which one will be The One. The one she drags around with her everywhere. Her blankey is out there somewhere, right now. So is the book I will read night after night, sometimes more than once in a sitting, playing all the parts in different voices.

I know it’s a long time to before she’s walking and talking, before the ABCs, kindergarten, the Tooth Fairy, summer camp, multiplication tables, a manicure, high heels, a boyfriend, a cell phone, middle school, the SATs.

I saw all the hairstyles, hair accessories, hairbrushes and hair care products. I saw her cry over a haircut. I saw so many tears you could fill a swimming pool. I saw so much love you could fill the sky.

We’ve got two weeks to go. Now I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. The future looks very pink indeed.

J.D. Smith is expecting the publication of his new book, “The Best Cellar” (Bonus Books) in January. Visit him at www.carteduvin.com.

Jewish Law and RU-486


How do Jews and how does Judaism view the recent approval of Mifeprex, a drug combination that can replace surgical abortion in many women?

Well, that depends on whom you ask.

Mifeprex, popularly call RU-486, can be used to terminate pregnancies for up to 49 days, counting from the beginning of a woman’s last menstrual period. A woman first takes 600 milligrams of mifepristone, which reduces the hormonal stimulation of the fetus. Two days later, she takes 400 micrograms of misoprostol, a drug that causes contraction in order to expel the fetus.

Two weeks after using the drugs, the woman returns to the doctor to be sure the pregnancy was terminated; the drug is 92 to 95 percent effective. Women who take the drug will get a Food and Drug Administration-approved brochure explaining how the drug works and what side effects to expect.

“The pills are certainly simpler than surgical abortion,” says Dr. Stephen Schuster, a gynecologist and clinical assistant professor at New York Hospital-Weil School of Medicine, who is also a member of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. “If the abortion is halachically permissible [permissible under Jewish law], then it’s an additional alternative if a doctor feels sure that the patient will contact the medical office immediately if any serious problems develop.”

Not surprisingly, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism have different ideas on the circumstances under which abortion is permitted under Jewish law.

“By approving mifepristone, the FDA has successfully placed women’s fertility back in the hands of a woman and her doctor,” says Rabbi David Saperstein, director of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center. “The Reform movement has long supported a women’s right to make moral decisions about her own life and her own body with privacy and without fear of government intrusion,” Saperstein said. He added that women will now be able to “use their moral and religious conscience in deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy within the comfort of their own homes, surrounded by their families.”

Sarrae Crane, spokeswoman for United Synagogue, which represents Conservative Judaism, was more tentative. “Conservative Judaism does not encourage abortion,” said Crane, “but we don’t believe that there should be obstacles put in a mother’s way either. Abortion is a religious and medical decision, not a governmental one.”

The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law takes the view that an abortion is justifiable if a continuation of pregnancy might cause the mother severe physical or psychological harm or when the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective.

Rabbi Moshe Tendler, considered the leading Orthodox authority on Jewish medical ethics, and a professor at Yeshiva University, has reviewed data on the drug for the past 10 years.

Tendler says that Mifeprex must be viewed in the context of what Jewish law says about abortion, which is that abortion is permitted only when a pregnancy places the mother’s life in danger, and in consultation with a rabbinical authority, says Tendler.

In those situations in which Jewish law would allow an abortion and the abortion can be performed within Mifeprex’s time frame, the drugs are the preferred method, says Tendler, because the abortion is performed indirectly – by depriving the fetus of hormonal stimulation – instead of directly; that is, by surgically removing the fetus.

But Tendler is significantly concerned that Mifeprex will be viewed as a form of contraception – “it is much easier to take a few pills a few days after you become pregnant than to take a pill every day in order to avoid a pregnancy,” Tendler says. But that, he says, is halachically impermissible. “Contraception per se is not a free ride when it comes to Jewish law,” Tendler says. “Not for married folk and certainly not for unmarried folk.”

While the drug would be the preferred method for a halachically approved abortion, it is not the preferred method if it is being used as contraception. “In that case,” Tendler says, “it would be the greater of two evils.”