Don’t Call It Murder

LAST UPDATED: 01/02/2011

With one simple ruling, our chief rabbis have turned women with unwanted pregnancies into heinous criminals who should be apprehended.

Every year, the chief rabbis launch an aggressive campaign to prevent abortions.

The guardians of women’s bodies preach about the importance of maintaining pregnancies, even unwanted ones. Last month, Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar called on all rabbis to fight what they call “the plague taking place in our country.”

Let’s clarify what an unwanted pregnancy is. In many cases, these pregnancies are a result of rape or incest. In others, the women know they cannot take care of the unborn child and don’t want to see themselves or their children fall into poverty.

Just this year, Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev said “abortion is a catastrophe in Jewish law. According to the Torah, abortion is the murder of a fetus in his mother’s womb.”

Yehuda Deri, chief rabbi of Beersheba and chairman of the Committee for Prevention of Abortion of the Chief Rabbinate, added: “Abortion is murder. There is no more important issue on the public agenda today than encouraging births and preventing abortions. We disseminated a legal ruling that says abortion is murder. We want the abortion approval committee to be more stringent in approving abortions.”

Yes, murder. Our hospitals employ fulltime executioners who are aided and abetted by women who may turn from victims of rape or incest, ignorance or carelessness, into butchers.

One might think that at any given moment, women are susceptible to this terrible plague of independent thought or wanton desire to abort. If a woman is infected by this terrible epidemic, the rabbis say she will find ominous ways to slaughter the fruit of her womb.

There is no end to the patronizing audacity that the rabbis exhibit in their commandment of the daughters of Israel not to “murder.”

USING THE term murder is chilling. It’s cruel and immoral, and insinuates that crime is raging in our streets and that these female criminals must be apprehended.

Are hundreds of thousands of murderers running around free? Or are we talking about women who took their fate into their hands, so as not to make themselves or their unwanted children miserable? Abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy is not murder. In the early stages, professionals say that though the fetal tissue is human, it is not a living and conscious being.

It seems that every time the rabbis fall out of favor with the public, they seek an easy target, and the easiest is incitement against abortions. Who will attack them for that? Women who had abortions? Women who are forced to decide whether or not to continue their pregnancies are not emotionally available for reactions and returning fire. Women who choose to have abortions don’t want to announce it to the public nor share their deliberations. They are adults, with sound opinions and judgment, who don’t need to be preached to. They don’t need to be called names nor suffer such accusations.

It would be better for the rabbis to remain quiet, and better still for the Knesset to cancel the Pregnancy Termination Committees. Approval committees are the standard procedure here, and are no less aggressive than the rabbis, because they too lack the confidence in women’s judgment.

It is a humiliating situation that requires that a woman seeking an abortion justify her decision before a committee, distinguished as it may be.

Imagine requiring the approval of a committee for every operation we need.

By virtue of its authority to approve or deny abortions, the committee validates the rabbinic line of thought that women lack the wisdom and right to exercise judgment, and that their decisions need to be audited.

Religious figures occasionally claim that women are equal and spice up the statement with a cache of empty declarations.

This equality is empty if the truly significant decisions about the lives and bodies of women are taken out of women’s hands. This is false morality, if women are only vessels in the hands of rabbis who determine their fate.

The Knesset must respect women’s judgment and the medical information they receive from doctors that help them decide. We must not be silent in the face of the false morality of the religious establishment.

Abortion is a woman’s right to control her body. It’s an important, private decision and we must respect every woman’s choice.

The writer is founder and executive director of New Family Organization.

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