The Jewish view on when human life begins

The number of letters to the editor about abortion has increased lately, and I guess that's due to the proposed amendment to Maryland’s constitution that would make abortion legal regardless of what happens to Roe v. Wade. I am struck by the number of people who seem to feel that they have the definitive answer about when life begins (“On closer reading, Bible favors protecting life,” Aug. 8). For many faith traditions, life begins at conception.

However, in Judaism, we are taught that life begins when the baby crowns or passes through the birth canal. Before that, the mother's health and life take precedence. Within the Jewish community there will always be a debate about what constitutes a threat to a mother's health and life. On one end of the continuum, that may be defined as being a threat to her mental stability and well-being. On the other end, it may be strictly her physical health and perhaps life itself.

In any case, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is seen as a matter to be decided by the pregnant woman, her spouse and her rabbi. When the government interferes with that decision-making process, her religious liberty is being compromised. Religious liberty is not just for fundamentalist Christians and Catholics. It is for all of us. No woman should be forced to have an abortion, but neither should she be forced to give birth to a child when doing so jeopardizes her well-being.

Roni Goss Berkowitz, Ellicott City

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