Prenatal Testing and Abortion (Rabbinical Assembly)

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There is clear precedent in the tradition, as it has developed to our day, to permit abortion of a fetus to save a mother’s life, to safeguard her health, or even for “a very thin reason,” such as to spare her physical pain or mental anguish. Some recent authorities also consider the well-being of other children, and the future of the fetus itself as reasons to permit abortion. All agree that there must be a reason to justify the destruction of the potential person the fetus will become after birth.

Where there is reason to believe that the fetus may be defective, it is advisable for the mother to go to her obstetrician and undergo amniocentesis and/or other prenatal tests. If the tests indicate that the child will be born with major defects which would preclude a normal life, and which make the mother and the family anxious about the future, it is permitted to abort the fetus.

The rabbi should meet with the mother (and father) and explain the approach of Jewish law to abortion. He should indicate the gravity of the act of aborting the fetus, as well as the extenuating circumstances which Jewish law considers as justification for an abortion. The rabbi should recommend a full discussion with the father and other members of the family in consultation with a physician and a psychiatrist, to help the mother understand the impact the abortion will have her and other members of the family. The final decision should be made by the mother in consultation with the family.

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