Abortion in the Religious Zionist Community

See below for an update.

In this week’s newspaper Makor Rishon, Yifat Erlich interviews couples in the national religious community who underwent abortions because of health problems with the fetus. Afraid of criticism from their close-knit communities, many ended up alone during this traumatic period.

More from the article:

  • Two medical clinics in Jerusalem treating risky pregnancies each reported that 70% of pregnant women in the national religious community undergo testing for Down’s Syndrome. (I presume this referred to blood tests and follow-up amniocentesis when indicated.) In 90% of the cases where Down Syndrome is detected, the couple decides to terminate the pregnancy. One of the doctors interviewed said that this statistic is not new, but people have begun talking about it. A higher number of abortions are being performed only because of more accurate testing.
  • Ten years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner wrote an article encouraging older women (over 37) to become pregnant, and promised to “stand beside them” if a deformity would be discovered. This was understood to mean that in theory, he would rule to allow abortion in the case of Down Syndrome. Obstetricians hung the article in their offices and called the resulting babies “Aviner’s children.”
    In the Makor Rishon article Rabbi Aviner is quoted as saying that if the parents would not be able to cope, for instance if there are already many children, he would permit an abortion of a baby with Down Syndrome. In the case of CMV where it is not clear whether the baby has been affected, he leaves the decision up to the parents.

I am not sure that knowing that a rabbi might allow an abortion helps parents who end up in that place. Having to deal with the devastating news and make such a difficult decision—because you can never be certain how you will feel when it is real—is still a deterrent to pregnancy for older women. Also, pregnancy at a later age is riskier for the mother and should not be taken lightly. But Rabbi Aviner believes that the risk of one terminated pregnancy should not prevent two hundred healthy babies from being born.

The relatively liberal attitude in the national religious community toward termination of abnormal pregnancies reflects the overall Israeli attitude toward prenatal testing. Israel’s mothers undergo more prenatal testing, including multiple ultrasounds and state-of-the-art tests paid for by the government, than those of any other country. A doctor quoted in the article said that Israel has the world’s highest termination rates because of fetal defects.

The religious internet site Kipah has a new forum for support after pregnancy loss.


  • Here is a link to the text of the article, posted on the Kipah forum. Thank you to commenter Keren.
  • Commenter Annie pointed out that according to this Ynet article, Israel’s overall abortion rate is lower than that of most countries in Europe, and dropping.


  1. I am confused because as a Christian we believe all life is sacred to G-d. Do Jews not believe this? Do they not believe every child (born or unborn) has a soul? I am just asking because I want to know if there is Scripture on this from your perspective. Also, I personally always refuse those tests because I obviously believe that every child is a gift and has a soul. I do find Jewish culture fascinating though and I enjoy studying it. I am enjoying reading your blog.

    • Hi Gretchen,
      Thanks for your question. Yes, life is sacred in Judaism. However, the fetus does not have the same status as an infant or adult. When the fetus is a threat to the mother’s life, an abortion is always performed. There are many gray areas such as in the case of a Tay Sachs baby where the infant will not live for more than a few years and the suffering of the parents/family is great. Even within Judaism, abortion in cases where the mother’s life is not ind direct danger, is controversial with different rabbis ruling differently.


  1. […] today only permit abortions in the case of real physical danger to the woman. If there is a problem with the baby including Down Syndrome, leniencies are also found. But if the mother has financial, personal or career reasons for wishing […]