Amongst non-Orthodox Jews, abortion, along with numerous other modern-day practices, has been decided by the court of rabbis as permissible on the basis of political opinions of the time. It is but another indication that amongst the reformed sects, Judaism is no longer an end to itself, but rather a synecdoche of the secular revolution of the left. With the impending appointment of Ms. Amy Coney Barett to the Supreme Court, the possibility that Roe v. Wade is repealed is greater than it has been in decades. Despite what liberal rabbis claim, abortion is certainly not morally permissible practice. Jews of all sects should hold their faith prior to existential political views and demand an end to the cart blanche practice of abortion.
The biggest opposition to banning abortion comes from individuals who refer to themselves as pro-choice. The underpinnings of the pro-choice philosophy is shared both by gentile and Jewish leftists. As the soi-disant lingo goes, identifying as pro-choice means supporting a “women’s personal choice.” What exactly is this “choice”? Some say this is the choice of a woman to have an abortion. But as an encompassing philosophical position, being “pro-choice” can better be thought of as the belief that a woman has the right to decide whether an abortion is morally permissible in her specific situation. As Planned Parenthood states on their website, ‘pro-choice’ means “believing that everyone has the basic human right to decide when and whether to have children.” The mother should have the unencumbered ability to decide whether she is allowed to abort the fetus, in effect. This does not deny the existence of a moral weight to killing an unborn child. But instead reasons that the ‘freedom of choice’ justifies the mother being the judge, jury, and executioner of the unborn child. If the mother decides that killing her unborn child is morally permissible, then being “pro-choice” means supporting this decision, regardless of how nebulous her reasoning is.
In effect, being ‘pro-choice’ means supporting the belief that on account of her own devised moral values, a pregnant mother can get an abortion. Rejecting the woman’s ability to get an abortion, by this logic, would be rejecting the woman’s autonomy to exercise her own moral values. “You can’t decide what a woman can do with her body, it is her right to choose” pro-choice advocates often remark.
This assertion of a right to ‘choose’ to kill the fetus is viewed as denial of rights, insofar as outlawing murder denies a man the right to place his knife in another man’s chest. Obviously, there should be no right, halachically or legally, to “choose” when the choice is over whether to kill an unborn child.
The problem with this argument is that we are not ruled by moral values, we are ruled by moral laws. It requires a dastardly level of nihilism to simply claim that any reason a mother has to abort the fetus is a just reason, because this implies that nearly all reasons justify killing the unborn child. In the Sascha Baron Cohen film “The Dictator,” upon finding out his wife was pregnant, the protagonist asks, “Will it be a boy or an abortion.” Sex selective abortions, abortions of children with down syndrome, and abortion for many other nebulous reasons are all fine because they are protected by a “right.”
The fallacy of the pro-choice logic is that subjective opinions or values have no bearing on whether a mother can end the life on her unborn child. The fact that the mother doesn’t like the gender or physical features of a child, to name a few egregious reasons, is not a valid reason to end the life of an unborn child.
In liberal Judaism, though, we are told that this objective moral hierarchy doesn’t exist, or simply exists in such a bastardized way that we can manipulate it to our heart’s content. Without this objective moral understanding of the world, no reasons can be viewed as bad reasons to get an abortion. And hence, the mother’s emotions are viewed as taking precedence by liberal ‘rabbis.’
But in reality, the feelings of the mother that foments in the form of the ‘choice’ can never rival the near-infinite value of the life of the fetus that demands we treat the issue according to objective moral laws. The mother’s existential feelings about terminating a pregnancy, by extension, should not have any bearing on whether it is morally permissible to kill the fetus. An illustration of this comes from a recorded conversation with Ted Bundy and one of his victims, as written about by Harry Jaffa:
“Laura: Where have you taken me, Ted?
Bundy: To a place where no one can follow us—or find you—at least not until long after I have disappeared—and you are dead.
Laura: What do you mean?
Bundy: What I mean is that I intend to rape and murder you.
Laura: Oh, my God, my God, why?
Bundy: Because, my dear, it will give me the greatest possible pleasure to do so.
Laura: Please, please, spare me. Send for ransom, ask anything. I know my parents and their families and friends will do anything to save my life.
Bundy: But you fail to understand me. I don’t want anything from anyone else. It is raping and murdering you that I want, and nothing can substitute for it. By the way, unless I have lost count, you will be the 89th young woman—person I should say—who has been good enough to gratify me in this way. Believe it or not, I am very grateful to my victims—although I do not think of them as victims, but rather as those making the sacrifices necessary for my freedom—the freedom to live my life the way I choose to live it. Nations praise those who sacrifice their lives for the freedom of others, as you will shortly be doing. I would be glad to erect a monument to your memory—and to that of all the others, past and future, who have made and will make the same sacrifice—although I do not think it is practicable for me to try to do so.
Laura: But Ted, how can you possibly call raping and murdering your “freedom”? What about my life and freedom?
Bundy: I recognize that your life and your freedom are very valuable to you, but you must recognize that they are not so valuable to me. And if I must sacrifice your life and freedom to mine, why should I not do so? The unexamined life was not worth living to Socrates. And a life without raping and murdering is not worth living to me. What right do you—or does anyone—have, to deny this to me?
Laura: But rape and murder are wrong. The Bible says they are wrong, and the law says they are wrong.
Bundy: What do you mean by wrong? What you call wrong, I call attempts to limit my freedom. The Bible punished both sodomy and murder with death. Sodomy is no longer regarded as a crime, or even as immoral. Why then should murder—or rape? But, you say, rape and murder are against the law, and if the law catches me, it will punish me. Very well, and if it does not catch me, what then? After so many highly successful and immensely gratifying rapes and murders, I do not think the law has much to say to me. In any case, it can hardly punish me any more for what I am about to do, than for what I have already done. So I see little benefit for you in this argument.
Laura: But surely, surely, Ted, you must see that killing an innocent human being is wrong. Did you, or do you not have a mother and a father, or a sister or a brother, or friends, in whom you recognize a life like your own, that should be as precious to you as your own life? Is there not something within you—a conscience—that tells you that to be a human being is to recognize that everything is not permitted? And that your own happiness—indeed your own freedom—depends upon living within the bounds prescribed either by God or the moral law?
Bundy: Well, Laura, I am glad we are having this talk. None of my other victims ever asked me to justify myself as you are doing. And so I must tell you—and hope it will afford you some satisfaction—that you are if possible increasing the pleasure I am having from our acquaintance, short as it must be.
I want you to know then that once upon a time I too believed that God and the moral law prescribed boundaries within which my life had to be lived. That was before I took my first college courses in philosophy. Then it was that I discovered how unsophisticated—nay, primitive—my earlier beliefs had been. Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong.” …”
Jaffa remarked in regards to the transcript, “May I suggest that Ted Bundy is a true existentialist hero, who displayed a resolution worthy of the nihilist’s truth that morality has no other support than what we will it to have. Since Bundy lived the doctrine that most philosophy professors only talk, it seems proper to suggest that there be established a Theodore Bundy Chair in Applied Ethics. I would estimate the cost of such a chair as no more than $300,000 (without the batteries). I would hope that successive incumbents of the chair would piously memorialize, i.e. reenact (on the appropriate date), the apotheosis of the original incumbent.”
Binding moral laws cannot be ‘picked and chosen’ to the pregnant mother’s heart’s desire. There are commandments derived from self-evident laws that we are obligated to follow. Among these commandments, is a clear prohibition of our current liberal systems of abortion. The greatest legislators and moralists of history would generally agree upon this:
The posek Moshe Feinstein wrote, “Abortion is forbidden as murder both for idol-worshippers and Jews … Therefore, the law is… that there is a complete prohibition of murder, derived from the verse, “You shall not murder” (Shemot 20:13), even regarding a fetus, except that the killer is not liable for the death [penalty]”(Choshen Mishpat 2:69).
And as Philo of Alexandria stated, “But if anyone has a contest with a woman who is pregnant, and strike her a blow on her belly, and she miscarry, if the child which was conceived within her is still unfashioned and unformed, he shall be punished by a fine, both for the assault which he committed and also because he has prevented nature, who was fashioning and preparing that most excellent of all creatures, a human being, from bringing him into existence. But if the child which was conceived had assumed a distinct Shape in all its parts, having received all its proper connective and distinctive qualities, he shall die; for such a creature as that is a man, whom he has slain while still in the workshop of nature, who had not thought it as yet a proper time to produce him to the light, but had kept him like a statue lying in a sculptor’s workshop, requiring nothing more than to be released and sent out into the world.” (Trans. Charles Duke Yonge, 1854-1890).
Now to be clear, there are fringe and outlying cases where sources disagree on the particular features of the practice, just as people may disagree on when it is permissible in other cases to take a human’s life (see Eliezar Waldenburg). But the broad consensus is that abortion on demand as is currently advocated by pro-choice advocates is reprehensible. Furthermore, the notion that the fetus is somehow not under the protection of natural law because he is “not fully developed” is a weak posthoc rationalization of abortion. Take other instances where people are in comas, mentally disabled, or physically crippled. No one would say it is acceptable to end the life of a comatose man who is expected to recover within a relatively short amount of time. Regardless of how ‘parasitic’ the man is in his coma. So by extrapolation, the argument for ‘the fetus being subhuman’ as a standard principle to determine the value of the life of the unborn child generally fails because the unborn child is simply a less developed person. Development, such as in the earlier examples, does not strip a man of his natural rights.
Every man, including the unborn, are created, b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, so we are all of the same nature. Self-evident of this fact is that we are all governed by His laws in according to His moral universe. No man– or woman’s– relativist values can supplant the laws governing mankind.
“To reform,” Edmund Burke stated, “is not to innovate.” Contending with these facts of nature, liberal Jews should either accept liberalism or Judaism. Accepting the former is a denial of all things real in favor of immediate passions and emotions. The latter is a path to pursuing the beautiful, which is the perfection of all the possible goods.