Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moral and Ethical Arguments

This post will take us into a new territory.  Anyone following this blog until now, would see that it is obviously unclear to the poskim exactly why, if at all, abortions are prohibited.  Since the prohibition is not obvious, many poskim take a different path when discussing this unusual topic. This path is full of moral and ethical reasoning, that may or may not resonate with your sensitivities, but certainly reflects the general desire of the poskim to legislate halacha according to what they saw as the values encouraged by the Torah.  So if they weren’t able to find a clear source to explain why an abortion actually us prohibited, they found no shortage of reasons for why it should be prohibited.

Recall, that in the end of this post here, we suggested five possible reasons why there may have been a rabbinic decree prohibiting abortion.  Reason #  4 was that the Rabbis decreed against abortion because of some ethical or moral reason that they felt it was necessary to prohibit.  Today we will describe some of those reasons.
Allow me to digress for just a moment with a short introduction.  The distinction and apparent occasional conflict between ethics and halacha is the essential dilemma topic that gave birth (pun not intended) to this blog. How to reconcile or resolve these conflicts as it pertains specifically to medical halacha is what I have set out to explore, and I hope that with every post we come closer to a coherent and clear approach that will help all of us in our quest to live both ethical and halachic lives.  When the Torah teaches us that something is prohibited which we all clearly understand to be unethical, we have no problem or conflict.  So if the Torah tells us “do not murder” that doesn’t engender any difficulties in our ethical mindset.  If the Torah tells us something that seems to be unethical, then that of course leads us to search and find ways to deal with this problem.  That is what we did with the “treating a goy on Shabbos” series. 
But what should one do if the Torah seems to not prohibit something that you believe should be prohibited?  That is the dilemma that many poskim have with the abortion issue, and this is what we are going to deal with today.  Once we have explicated numerous opinions regarding the origins of the abortion prohibition, we will now enter the world of the halachic authorites who have concluded one of two things.  Either they could not find a true prohibition, but they concluded that it should not be done because it is unethical or wrong, despite the fact that it may technically be permitted.  Or, they concluded that it actually was prohibited by the Rabbis due to an ethical or moral problem with the act of terminating a pregnancy.
One more thing, it would be absolutely impossible for me to bring every halachic authority in history who has railed against abortions over the centuries. There is no question at all that the trend of halachic authorities is to believe that abortions are “bad things” and that the Torah does not look upon them positively. The list of such authorities is very long. However, I will still try my best to bring the primary moral issues that these authorities have raised, and bring some of the primary sources for each assertion.  I will also try to bring some sources who claimed that this is a reason why it is a specific rabbinic decree, and others who simply claimed that therefore it is a bad thing to do, but not specifically a violation of an issur derabbanan (rabbinic decree).
After this post, we can finally move on to the most stringent poskim, those who claimed that abortion is prohibited Me’doraytah, due to the issur of murder.  Since this is a blog, and not a scholarly article, I hope you will forgive me if I also diverge a little by bringing some contemporary statements and articles regarding this topic, and I may take my liberty and make some critical comments regarding what I believe to be serious errors or misrepresentations. We can then start discussing some of the halachic differences between the various stages of pregnancy, and finally, we will have established a solid framework so that we can proceed with our “rationalist” analysis of this topic.
1)      Permitting abortions would encourage promiscuity (Chavos Yair 31)
2)      Abortion would be a negation of the mitzvah of P’ru U’rvu (the obligation to procreate) (Mishpetei Uziel here)
3)      An abortion will prevent the potential of a future life (Mishpetei Uziel here
4)      By terminating a pregnancy, one prevents a future soul from doing mitzvos (Ohel Moshe by Rav Moshe Zweig Chelek 3 page 49)
5)      Abortions are considered morally wrong by other religions, and thus we should also take a moral stand (Ohel Moshe, see above)
By no means have I quoted everyone that has had something to say on this matter.  I only gave a source for each assertion, but as you can imagine, much ink has been spilled on this issue, and numerous others have said similar ideas.
Many of these poskim held that there was no specific prohibition against abortion, although they determined that it was not a proper thing to do because of one of the above reasons (for one example, see Sefer Emunas Shmuel here  who calls it a “ketzas” issur derabbanan, and the Tzitz eliezer interprets his words to mean that there isn’t really any issur at all, see here) while others determined that for one or more of the above reasons, it was prohibited by the chachamim (see for example the Shut MahaRash Engel 5:9 – I apologize that I could not find it on so I couldn’t provide a link).
This completes our discussion of the possible reasons why an abortion may be considered an issur derabbanan. It is very important to emphasize, that according to the poskim that hold that abortions are an issur derabbanan, that they would also be more lenient regarding the situations in which abortions may be allowed. So for example, the Rov Pe'alim here (Rav Yosef Chaim of Bahgdad - also known as the "Ben Ish Chai") suggested that an unmarried woman who was suffering from shame and embarassment might be allowed to abort.  Rav Yaakov Emden allowed only a married woman who become pregnant from an adulterous affair (see our previous post here). The Beit Yehuda (see our previous post here) was willing to allow a nursing woman to abort out of concern for her nursing child.

All of the above authorities agree that when it is being done out of concern for the mother's well being it is permitted, only the exact degree of suffering of the mother necessary to permit abortions is somehwat a matter of dispute.  It is a question of degree, not of principle.

Recall, that even according to the authorities who held that the orgins of the abortion prohibition were mi'doraytah (see our post here for details) it was still permitted to abort in many circumstances because the particular prohibition did not apply.

However,  the story is not yet over.  A major group of poskim, have claimed that the abortion prohibition is actually a Torah prohibition, and the source of teh prohibition is the prohibition of murder.  This may shock those of you that have been following this blog, but let us give these poskim a chance, and sit back and listen so we can have a full treatment of this issue. Stay tuned for the next post!

No comments:

Post a Comment