Shmuly Yanklowitz

The Sanctity of Birthing: Forced Early Childbirth Violates Mothers in Prison

(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

We all know that the miracle of giving birth to a child is among the most important, personal, sacred events that someone can experience in the course of their life.

That is why I was particularly horrified to find out that three women held in prison in my home state said they had labor induced early against their will, as reported by my local paper, the Arizona Republic.

Of course, labor induction can often be a crucial medical procedure. “Research has shown that labor can be induced safely at 39 weeks if it is an elective procedure, and health care experts say labor can safely be induced before 39 weeks if there is a medical reason to do so,” the Republic reported as part of its initial investigation.

This, on the other hand, is alleged to be forced birth entirely for scheduling reasons. How unbelievably traumatizing this must be, for this physically and spiritually momentous occasion to be taken over by an intrusion that taints this precious moment of motherhood and the sanctity of the childbirth process.

“The choice of when and how to give birth is deeply personal and that does not change just because someone is incarcerated,” the Arizona Republic quoted Governor Katie Hobbs as saying. “The reproductive rights of all women must and will be safeguarded and respected.”

The birth of a baby is such a lofty event that, in Temple times, it even merited the offering of special sacrifices (Leviticus 12:6). Further, the Jewish tradition teaches that the time of childbirth belongs in the hands of God. It is taught in the Talmud:

Rabbi Yohanan said: There are three keys maintained in the hand of the Holy One be Blessed which were not transmitted to an intermediary, i.e., God tends to these matters God-self. And they are: The key of rain, the key of birthing, and the key of the resurrection of the dead. (Taanit 2a)

It is upon God, not the government, to decide when birth should occur, aside from medical emergencies. Upon finding out somebody is pregnant, Jews traditionally wish that that the baby will come “b’sha’ah tovah,” at a good hour, a time that is safe and comfortable for the mother and the child.

While it is true that a person loses some autonomy in prison — one hasn’t operated according to the societal conventions, and so one loses certain rights — it is undeniable that there is something so holy about giving birth that no person should lose the power to control their own body.

(Wikimedia Commons)

“I’m quite used to the prison making all these decisions for us because we are still state property,” Desiree Romero, one of the women who medical records show delivered their babies early, told the Republic.

As religious people — or even empathic people — we are compelled to see the womb as a spiritual place, akin to the baby’s Garden of Eden. Outside of medical necessity, no child should be made to leave this holy source of safety until the Divinely determined time. What’s more: No mother should be needlessly deprived of her own comfort, or the comfort she provides to her unborn child.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of 22 books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.
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