Jewish values affirm the right of a woman to self-determination, and while potential life is always considered to have value, it is never placed above a woman’s health and well-being. The Reform Movement has long been staunch supporters of women’s reproductive rights.
All life is sacred in Judaism. Although an unborn fetus is precious and to be protected, Judaism views the life and well-being of the mother as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life. Women are commanded to care for their own health and well-being above all else. Therefore, there are several instances when Judaism not only condones abortions, but they are mandated.
Mishnah Ohaloth 7:6, for example, forbids a woman from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and if her life is threatened, the text permits her no other option but abortion. In addition, if the mental health, sanity, or self-esteem of the woman (i.e. in the case of rape or incest) is at risk due to the pregnancy itself, the Mishnah permits the woman to terminate the pregnancy. It is due to the fundamental Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances. This same sanctity underscores the vital need for medically accurate sexuality education and for high-quality family planning services.
Grounded in these affirmations of a woman’s right to choose and of reproductive rights in general, the Reform Movement has passed strong policy in favor of reproductive justice:
- In a 1935 resolution, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) expressed support for the lifting of bans on the dissemination of birth control literature
- The CCAR followed with a 1947 Resolution on Birth Control, followed by a URJ resolution in 1950. In 1965, WRJ passed a resolution concerning Judaism and the Family, stating, "We appeal for liberalization of the abortion laws of the various States and urge our United States constituents to work toward this end."
- The URJ continued its commitment to reproductive health with resolutions in 1967, 1975, 1981, and 1990, stating in 1975 that "in any decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, the individual family or woman must weigh the tradition as she struggles to formulate her own religious and moral criteria to reach her own personal decision....We oppose all constitutional amendments that would abridge or circumscribe this right."
- The Central Conference of American Rabbis went on record in 1967, 1975, 1980, 1991, 1993, and 1995, affirming the "right of a woman or individual family to terminate a pregnancy" and stating that the CCAR "opposes amendments and legislation which would abridge or circumscribe this right."
Resolution on Abortion (1974)
Resolution on Violence Against Women (1990)
Resolution on International Women's Rights (1994)
Resolution on Violence Against Reproductive Health Clinics (1995)
Resolution on State Restrictions on Access to Reproductive Health Services (2008)
Resolution on Reproductive Rights (1989)