I am not a rabbi, nor a woman. I am a physician, husband, father, grandfather and a reader of the Chronicle who feels compelled to respond to Rabbi Rachael Pass’ “Opinion: My Jewish approach to my abortion,” October 2021. My purpose is not to attack ad hominem, but rather to present some criticisms, and another point of view.
The phrase “I accidentally conceived” should be pointed out with at least some gentle critique, to trivialize the occurrence, and to obfuscate an important adult responsibility. Morning sickness is a very common occurrence in pregnancy and is most often self-limiting, usually resolving by mid –pregnancy regardless of severity and need for therapy. Effective therapies do exist for this condition and morning sickness is generally not considered from a strictly medical point of view, an indication for termination of pregnancy. Pass goes on to state that “I simply did not want to be pregnant,” and to frame her discussion as a choice between the life of the pregnant person and the fetus, stating “In having an abortion, I chose my life.” I believe this is a false choice. Lacking any evidence to the contrary, both the life of Rabbi Pass and her fetus could have been preserved. Respectfully, another choice, however uncelebrated, could have been, despite not wanting to be pregnant, to choose life and to grace her fetus with the gift of life, and perhaps her love or the love of adoptive parents.
In Jewish tradition and custom, we celebrate life, particularly new life. We read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah “Do not raise your hand against the boy or do anything to him. For now, I know that you fear G-d, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.” In our own life experiences, most of us know or are aware of young couples who struggle to conceive. In my profession and in my own life I have experienced the struggle to live. All life struggles to live. “L’Hayim, Hayim Tovim, Safer Hayim Tovim.” life, life, life we emphasize.
It is important for those with differing points of view to speak up; not because as the rabbi points out that “mine is the kind of abortion that anti-choicers most disdain,” but rather because contrary voices exist and are legitimate, and because someone must speak for those who cannot.
William Burns, M.D., is a Mequon resident and member of Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his synagogue or the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. Editors note: The headline for Rabbi Pass’ article was adjusted for the print edition of the Chronicle, for reasons including space in print.