Single Motherhood and Artificial Insemination

Despite some legal and ethical concerns, single women should not be prohibited from becoming pregnant with donor sperm.


Reprinted with permission from
The Canadian Jewish News
(February 4, 1999).

Many single women in their late 30s and early 40s are concerned about whether they will be able to find the right person to marry while they can still have children of their own. It is under these conditions that a new question is coming to the forefront: Is it ethical for a single woman to become pregnant via artificial insemination?

[I have written this article] based in part on a thorough and passionate article by Dvora Ross in the recently published volume Jewish Legal Writings By Women.

Jewish Legal Concerns

One objection relates to anonymous donor sperm. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 9:51:4) notes that it is forbidden for a woman to remarry for three months subsequent to being divorced or widowed because we may not know who the father is (Shulhan Arukh EH 13:1), and a clear genealogy is extremely important (Yevamot 42b).

In addition, there is a concern that the child of an anonymous donor may someday meet and marry a brother or sister, unaware that they are siblings. Based on these rules, Rabbi Waldenberg forbids the use of anonymous donor sperm.
artificial insemination
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe EH 2:11) dismisses this comparison. He notes that the three-month waiting period between marriages is because the child may mistakenly think the second husband is the father, while in reality it is the first husband. However, in the case of a sperm donor, the child is aware that the father is anonymous. Rabbi Feinstein also says [that] the possibility a child of an anonymous sperm donor will unwittingly marry a sibling is statistically remote.

According to all opinions, this problem can be solved by using the sperm of a non-Jewish donor, or by obtaining the identity of the donor before the child marries.

Extra-Legal Concerns

Outside of the issue of an anonymous donor, there are no halakhic concerns. In fact, Rabbi Y.Y. Weinberg (Seridei Eish 3:5) says that it is permissible for a single woman to use donor sperm to become pregnant. However, others object to this on ethical grounds. One objection is that the mother and child may be targets of slander, because even a pious, chaste single woman will be accused of promiscuity when she becomes pregnant.

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Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz is rabbi of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem in Montreal, Canada.

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