One Jewish Mother’s Abortion

One Jewish Mother’s Abortion

Yes, frum women do have abortions.

Especially in this high-tech era of prenatal testing and ultrasounds, more and more Orthodox women are being told by their rabbis that it’s not God’s will for an extremely sick fetus or a fetus that endangers their lives to be born.

I have a friend, a mother of 9 KA”H, who had one such “therapeutic abortion”* five years ago. And my friend told me recently that she knows, on a certain level, that she did the right thing. She knows that this abortion was an expression of her Emunat Chachamim, because she loyally followed her rabbi’s instructions to abort. And she does believe, or at least tries to believe, that her abortion was Hashem’s will.

But still, her vague feeling of guilt over this abortion has never left her. What if she and her husband had presented their case differently to the rabbi, she wonders, or what if they had asked a different “frummer” rabbi altogether whether to abort or not? Maybe then she would have had a baby and not an abortion.

I see that for my friend, the years pass, and her family grows, but the bitter guilt lingers and lingers.

So I was thinking of my friend when this week I read an article in Binah about a newly-married 22-year-old woman who has already suffered through the unfathomable loss of a very sick newborn baby as well as, a few months later, a rabbinically-mandated therapeutic abortion. This young mother explained to author Debbie Shapiro:

“In the months that followed [the abortion] I rode an emotional rollercoaster, steadied only by my emunas chachamim and my husband’s constant support. Today my loss is still very fresh. I know that eventually the pain will become dulled, and hopefully my life will become filled with many wonderful simchos. At the same time, however, I ache to hold a baby—my baby. Until that time, may it happen soon, I take comfort in the knowledge that I gave two pure neshamos their tikkun, and that those children are truly mine. I know that after 120 years, when I arrive in the Next World, they will both come out to greet me and I will finally find out about the heilige, elevated souls I carried within me.”

Extraordinary. At such a young age to be so wise. And to understand that even when a mother-to-be is instructed by a rabbi to abort a fetus, G-d forbid, during that interrupted pregnancy that unborn fetus still fulfilled his or her ultimate mission in the world. On a spiritual level that baby she aborted is still her baby. And that baby, this young bereft woman understands, will remain her child, forever.

**Please note: If you would like to leave a comment, please make sure that you express yourself in a way that would not be hurtful to a fellow JewishMOM who has been through the nisayon of a therapeutic abortion. I have written this post in order to provide such women with chizuk, so I will be moderating comments very carefully and only allowing comments that are sensitively written.

*To clarify, the “therapeutic abortions” discussed in this post are abortions required by qualified poskim on account of rare severe fetal medical conditions or on account of a pregnancy that endangers the mother’s life. While such abortions are becoming more common in the Orthodox community, they are still very rare, and can be performed ONLY because they are mandated by a leading posek.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user arincrumley

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16 comments

  1. First of all my heart aches and goes out to the mothers, since I have had many miscarriages I know the pain and feeling of loss these women feel. With that said I worry in this day and age what rabbinic authorities are considering just. With my entire heart I agree with the Rav when a mothers lifeis in danger, but recently on another Frum Jewish forum a mother discussed how she aborted a baby with Down syndrome the rabbinic design was based on the fact that this child would be suffering their entire life and this was a better option. I was shocked and almost threw up when I read those words. Personally and this is just me and I’m not judging anyone else , please understand……. I personally have witnessed some amazing miracles in my life things that have stumped some of the ” best” doctors, and I know Hashem can change a situation In seconds flat. I personally would carry a pregnancy to the end even with the grimmest of diagnosis, this is just me though , with that all said again if the mothers life is in danger that is a complete different story.

  2. I am in total agreement with Sheva .
    I have experienced miscarriage myself less then a year ago.
    It has not been easy to say the least, but it brought some comfort that H-shem took things in his own hands sooner than if I had to be faced with the abortion question later, should doctors suspect something.
    Luckily I am a big fan of Rabbi Lazer Brody, the American voice of Rabbi Shalom Arush, and he extensively explains how doctors make mistakes and we have to go out of our way to ensure we make the right decision in this matter.

    http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/lazer_beams/2009/11/obstetric_ultra.html

    http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/lazer_beams/2010/11/72-hour-lifeline.html

    http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/lazer_beams/2010/11/teshuvat-hamishkal-ms-story.html

    I have also heard of miracles in these cases when doctors make a mistake and perfectly healthy babies are born.. Who runs the world, doctors or H-shem?
    To bring comfort to those who did go through abortion, it’s all in H-shems hands, he decreed that it will happen to the Neshama and orchestrated the advisers around to make these families come to the conclusion of aborting. It is waste of energy to beat yourself about it.
    Instead of self persecuting yourself, spend your time praying to H-shem for a new baby, that will be born healthy and strong!

    Hatzlacha!

  3. Dear Chana Jenny, Thank you so much for posting this. I was pregnant last year with a baby with a dangerous syndrome, and our rav advised us to abort, and sent us to a big posek here in Israel who gave us the psak to abort.

    Before this happened, I would have sent in a comment like Malka Michaela. I was always against abortion and prenatal testing even. I thought I would just have emuna and with Hashem’s help cope with whatever Hashem gave me.

    But our experience really made me understand that true emuna means following my rav and the posek he sent us to. We cannot know what Hashem wants for us, we need to follow the rabbanim. This post brought me a lot to nechama. Thank you so much.

  4. Jenny also

    Sheva and other, Thanks for your very thoughtful responses. It is very admirable that we are able to discuss this very painful and controversial issue with such respect.

    I would like to suggest that in addition to the physical realities like “when a mother’s life is in danger” emotional and psychological realities need and should be considered by a couple and those who are advising them. I think only a couple, their Rabbi, and Hashem can know what syndrome/diagnosis a particular family will be able to live with and what is just not possible. I do not think we can say from the outside which syndromes should result therapeutic terminations and which should not. Mental health is an important, and very private, factor.

    • I completely hear what you are saying and honestly if I had a prenatal diagnosis for my daughter I know termination would of crossed my mine. That is an honest answer becasue when you are faced with something so foreign and what appears to be so scary these are your thoughts. So I really hear that, but truthfully no parent knows what they can handle,I never in a million years thought I could handle having a child with Down syndrome, and what scares me is that if expressed this to a Rav he may have given us the option of termination. That to me is unreal did you know today 95% of Ds pregnancys are terminated. Hashem only gives what we can handle and having a child with special needs is not easy but it also can be the biggest blessing in the world. My child does not suffer and our family does not suffer becasue of her diagnosis. Every Neshama has a Tikun in this world and we are here till we complete it, a child with special needs has no Tikun completely pure soul and their Tikun is to heal the people around them. I would hope if a Frum person was faced with such a decision they would consider adoption, becasue there are waitng lists of Jewish Frum parents ( we know we are on that list) waiting to adopt a child with special needs ,long waiting lists.bAgain I want to say I do believe in termination if the mothers life is in danger, but gennetic selection I can’t stand by, halachly or moraly . I hope this wasn’t offensive, I tried

      • Thank you, Sheva, for your honesty and strength. Hearing from a woman who has been in these shoes gives us all strength. For women nearing 40 the pressure to test and G-d forbid terminate is immense. You would be a wonderful support address for those going through such traumatic times….

  5. Firstly thank you Chana Jenny for being so sensitive to comments, and for having the courage to post.

    I have often wondered what I would do in these situations. Being a Ba’alat Teshuva, for my first three children (before thesuva) I would not have thought twice to terminate (G-d forbid) had something been “wrong”. Now, as a woman who considers myself strong in emuna, I ask myself a million times over: what would happen “if”?

    To test, or not to test? That is the question that comes even before the question of termination.

    I still don’t know the answers, but the comments here have certainly given me much food for thought.

  6. Chana Jenny, thank you for posting this. It takes so much courage and faith to go through something like this. My mother had an abortion after my father left because she felt she could not handle things at that point…when she got remarried she wanted to get pregnant but had no luck and miscarried multiple times..When I was pregnant with my daughter I did not think twice about going through all of the tests and ultrasounds, I have no idea what I would if faced with something like this (chas veshalom). This article brings to mind that H-shm would never send a person a greater test than they can overcome, and it is amazing to see that a young woman my age can have so much wisdom and emunah in this situation.

  7. hi chana jenny,

    firstly i want to repeat the sentiment noted above. you are doing women a most amazing chesed by tackling this sensitive topic on your blog.

    i am mother to 3 (going on 4, bezrat hashem), i work in the obstetrics profession here in yerushalayim, and i termintated a pregnancy at 18 weeks 3.5 years ago. it was the most difficult time of my life and of my marriage.

    i unfortunately am faced all too often with couples coming to my hospital to terminate pregnancies for various reasons. and more often than not these couples are frum, and often charidim. i am PROUD that our religious leaders, our poskim, are beginning to understand the trauma and the life-altering nature of a pregnancy, birth and neonatal care of a very sick and often terminal child.

    and with tears in my eyes, i always tell these couples how brave they are – what amazing mothers and fathers they must be to do this very difficult thing that is most definitely the best decision for their baby, themselves, their marriage, and their children present and future. my own decision and experience give me the strength and the courage to give these couples chizuk and open myself to them and them to me.

    i applaud your initiative to bring this issue to the table.
    kol hakavod!
    a

  8. There was a time in my 20’s and 30’s that I’d have NEVER aborted and I’d have refused and did refuse those tests. All my kids were fine, thank goodness, but now I am in my 40’s. I see other parents who had kids when they were my age and while the kids are fine, they are like 60 with 15 year olds!

    It’s not just a matter of giving birth to a child who needs special help, it is a matter of caring for them. Who will take care of the young adult with severe Tri-G or other conditions? The older kids? I still hurt for some miscarriages that I had– I had an ectopic, then seven children after that (and eight pregnancies) and I STILL hurt and wonder if I did something wrong.

    Your article is great– thank you for posting this because it is one of those things that is terrifying to have to consider.

    • I have to start by asking Hashem to give me the ability to answer here the best way possible in the calmest and most understanding way……….. For those who don’t know here Tri-G is Down syndrome
      I had my daughter when I was 35 I will be 60 when she is 20. I am not so worried about her future because when I am in my sixties I will be planning her wedding and getting her settled into married life. Just like many mothers who have had children in their late thirties and forties, but like any of my children their are no guarantees for this. There are no guarantees for any of our children’s future no matter how many chromosomes they have. We have children, thank Hashem for the blessing, and think positive about their future, and the same for a child with Down syndrome. Things have changed today and expectations are higher for children with special needs. I could go on and on here I could link to an amazing video here on this blog about a man speaking about his brother with Down syndrome.I could explain here that my oldest child has begged and bent over backwards to have me agree that if his sister needs adult care could it please be with him. He loves her with a fire that I can not describe. I could go on and on here, but what really I can not understand is the lack of value of life. Hashem has given our world these special neshamas to heal this world, and often these special souls are shunned , not wanted, and terminated. This breaks my heart it really does.
      I had a beautiful healthy normal typical baby at 35 years old she also has the BLESSING of Down syndrome. I thank Hashem each and every morning and night and all the hours in between for giving me this special neshama to raise. For giving me the honor to raise such child, this is not a burden, this is not anything but a blessing. I am not just her care taker I am her mother and I love her with everything I have now and when I’m sixty all the way to 120.

    • Kaylee:
      I cannot tell you how offensive your comment about older parents is. I am one of those (gasp!) older parents – I had my first B’H at 41 and my second, B’H at 43. I am now a 59 year old mom of a 16 year old and an 18 year old.They are the blessings of our lives; I thank G-d regularly. I once mentioned to my frum friend, an Israeli, that I had misgivings about giving birth so late because I would not live as long as other parents. She told me that was an American-type statement, that Israelis know that death can easily come at any age.
      Her comment helped me get a new perspective.

  9. In hope this ok Chana Jenny , but I would really like moms to see what a Frum family raising a child with special needs looks like and lives like, so here is my link
    http://www.myshtub.blogspot.com

  10. Thank you for writing this article. I don’t think I could ever willingly terminate a pregnancy, even with a terminal diagnosis. I KA”H have a beautiful 9.5 month old child, after a pregnancy that could have taken my life (I am still recovering and am not allowed to get pregnant again until I fully recover – an unknown amount of time). Thankfully my condition did not deteriorate enough to warrant talk of abortion, but I always knew it might get to that point in order to save my life and it just tore me up. I now have the prospect of all future pregnancies being the same or worse, and it terrifies me. Every hour of the pregnancy I just wanted it to end, and I now am dealing with post traumatic stress in addition to the physical recovery.

    I simply can’t imagine the strength it takes to make that kind of decision for you, your baby, and your family. I do agree that if the mother’s health is not at risk and the baby does not have something terminal, the parents should look at adoption before abortion. But I also don’t think we can judge them, no matter what they decide and for what reasons. I hope never to be faced with such a choice.

  11. Thanks for addressing this topic, Jenny, which is seldom dealt with publicly in many of our communities. Even that great Binah article referred to the abortion euphemistically, as though there were some shame in the word itself.

    I strongly agree with Sara’s comment: “true emuna means following my rav and the posek he sent us to. We cannot know what Hashem wants for us, we need to follow the rabbanim.”

    There is no need to second-guess ourselves or any other woman. If we ask a sheila, we will be directed to God’s will for us. No one gives such a psak lightly.

    I’m grateful that abortion is legal here in Israel and in the US, even though that legality also results in tragedies. I think access to safe and legal abortion is an issue of religious freedom.

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