Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Last week, a new study on abortion found that while the decision is hard for most women, no matter class, geography, or ethnicity 95% of women who have made the choice to abort do not regret it. The findings of this study go against the prevailing common narratives conveyed by the media and in politics but they were not so shocking to me.
As a rabbi, I have sat with women (and sometimes their male partners) when they have contemplated abortions. I have been with women at the mikveh after abortions. I have talked with women as they move through life, a personal decision to abort a pregnancy part of the fabric of their personal history.
Judaism does not forbid abortion as some faith traditions do. Judaism does not demonize women who abort or doctors who carry out the procedure. The rabbinic tradition does not by any means align with the modern Women’s Right To Choose but it does provide leeway for women’s health and for early termination. In addition to the historic male rabbinic legal framework, there are modern prayers and rituals that have emerged largely from female rabbis and religious leaders.
Much of this new liturgy and ritual focuses on loss. Some of the women, I have sat with, have felt incredible loss and anguish at their choice to abort. And navigating that loss can be complex. The anniversaries and never actualized birthdays and life milestones weigh heavily. There are no easy answers and our tradition teaches us to be compassionate and supportive.
But for others, the decision to have an abortion while complex is also clear. There is no father to speak of. There is no money for support. There are other children or a marriage to consider. There are medical realities that are too painful to contemplate. The choice not to continue a pregnancy for these women is an affirmative choice to continue living or tending other lives. These women are part of the 95% who live without regret. I see them in my communities. Some are growing beautiful children others are not. They are teachers, doctors, activists, clergy and volunteers. They are older and younger. They are living fully. They are doing good in the world.
I see in my experience and in the findings of this study, the need to continue to build on the foundation that our tradition has laid. We need to challenge the discourse that sets religion in opposition to the possibility of abortion. We need to make space to talk and teach about Jewish understandings about abortion so that women can turn to their religious tradition and its leaders for the support and compassion they may need -at the moment of deciding or in the years that follow. And we need to create blessings and rituals that mirror the full variety of experience with abortion, including the potential it has possibility to unleash.
Pronounced: MICK-vuh, or mick-VAH, Alternate Spelling: mikvah, Origin: Hebrew, Jewish ritual bath.