Jews and abortion

One of the most frequent questions Christians ask me as a Jew is, “Why aren’t Jews committed to protecting the unborn?”
November 14, 2012

One of the most frequent questions Christians ask me as a Jew is, “Why aren’t Jews committed to protecting the unborn?”

The question is not asked in anger. The questioners are truly confused. Christians think of Jews as the people who brought the greatest value system into the world — biblical, monotheistic values upon which Western civilization is based.

It was the Torah, after all, that introduced the idea that the human being is created in God’s image, and therefore infinitely valuable. So, while the Greeks allowed sickly or unsightly children to die of exposure, Jews kept every child alive.

Most Jews will respond that what concerns them regarding the human fetus is protecting a woman’s right to have an abortion. It is not that they are “pro-abortion,” but that they are first and foremost pro-choice.

Now, that response would be understandable, and perhaps even morally unobjectionable, if Jews took a moral stand against most abortions while they advocated for the legality of abortion.

What we have here are two separate issues. Ironically, however, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates choose to them see as one.

The first is the legality of abortion. 

The other is the morality of abortion.

Pro-life people argue that since abortions are almost all immoral, abortion — unless performed to save the mother’s life or, for others, in cases of rape or incest — should be illegal.

Meanwhile pro-choice activists argue that since all abortions should be legal, they will never judge any abortions to be immoral.

Because they do not distinguish the legal and moral issues, both sides have done injury to moral clarity about abortion as well as to their respective causes.

By advocating the criminalizing of nearly all abortions, the pro-life forces have hurt their cause. Even the many Americans who are morally ambivalent about abortion on demand — a 2011 Gallup poll showed that 51 percent of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong and only 39 percent believe that abortion is morally acceptable — are against criminalizing abortion. The pro-life movement should have concentrated its rhetorical firepower on the morality of abortion, not its legality.

One the other side, the pro-choice forces are so passionate about the legality of abortions that they are silent about its morality.

And that is where most Jews — especially rabbis — have been a moral disappointment.

Without having to abandon their pro-choice position, any Jew who speaks as a Jew or who cares about Jewish moral values should acknowledge that many abortions have no moral defense. Yet, I have almost never encountered a pro-choice Jew who does so.

Let me give an example of where Jews would surely be pro-choice yet be outspoken about the moral issue: adultery.

I presume that just about every Jew — from ultra-Orthodox and politically conservative to completely irreligious and politically left — would oppose criminalizing adultery. In other words, all Jews are pro-choice on adultery. Yet, I would also presume that nearly all Jews, and certainly all rabbis, if asked whether they are pro-choice on adultery, would respond that while they are, they want to make it abundantly clear that they regard adultery as immoral.

Why, then, can’t pro-choice Jews — especially rabbis — say the same thing about abortion? Why can’t they say that while they are pro-choice, as Jews and as moral humans they regard most abortions immoral?

Is it moral to abort a female fetus solely because the mother wants a boy?

Is it moral for an affluent married woman to have an abortion solely because she just doesn’t want a child at this time, or just doesn’t want any more children?

Is it moral to have an abortion when the fetus can live outside the womb — and there is no medical necessity to have one?

Is it moral to have an abortion for no medical reason even though there are myriad married couples who ache to adopt a newborn?

Shouldn’t everyone be troubled by these questions? 

If the Jewish community took as strong a stand on the immorality of most abortions as it does on keeping abortion legal, it would not only strengthen the pro-choice cause, it would bring moral honor to the Jewish people and to Judaism. That almost no non-Orthodox rabbis, let alone Jewish women’s groups and Jewish organizations preoccupied with social justice, have publicly expressed moral misgivings concerning any abortions is not a credit to Judaism or the Jewish people. 

This is one more reason one must sadly conclude that for many, perhaps most, Jews leftism has supplanted Judaism as their religion; Judaism has become largely a cultural expression and an ethnic identity. One way to reassert the primacy of Judaism would be for pro-choice Jews — again, especially rabbis — to publicly assert the difference between abortion’s legality and most abortions’ morality.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

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