Warning: content might be upsetting. Proceed with caution.
A couple of weeks ago, I've read an article which left me deeply disturbed and wondering whether I should discuss it here. Eventually I decided that I will, but I want to keep matters as discreet and anonymous as possible, which is why I won't provide any names, quotes, or links.
The summary is as following: a religious Jewish woman discovered, during an ultrasound scan, that her unborn baby has a severe neural tube defect. She was told by the doctors there's no way her baby can live more than a few days. Devastated, this woman went to see her rabbi for guidance and counsel. The rabbi advised her to terminate the pregnancy, which she did.
Please note I won't get anywhere even remotely close to judging this poor, grieving, devastated mother. However, many of the comments under the original article repeated more or less the same story: Me too. I was told by my doctor my baby won't live, too. I was told by my rabbi it's alright to have an abortion, too. I went ahead and did it. Some of the women who terminated their pregnancies were at a point where the baby could actually be viable.
Again, I don't intend to judge the women. Instead, I would like to focus on the tendency.
It is understandable that proficiency in religious teachings requires years and years of learning. Being an ordinary woman with, perhaps, less than average (as someone who became religious later in life) knowledge of Jewish holy texts, I could never know as much as a rabbi on the overall. Yet here is the scary part: not all Orthodox rabbis agree that abortion should be allowed because of severe deformities. Far from it! Many, if not most, will argue that abortion can only be an option in the extremely rare cases when pregnancy directly and inevitably threats the woman's life. Since we are talking about human life here, not about whether Ashkenazi Jews should be allowed to eat beans during Pesach, such difference of opinions sends chills down my spine.
It's not even about the fact that medical prognosis might be incorrect. In many cases, healthy babies were aborted because of wrong diagnosis; in other cases, babies were born miraculously healthy despite dire warnings; and finally, conditions that were labeled as "hopeless" at first, turned out to be treatable and manageable. Yes, life will continue to prove time and time again that doctors don't and can't know everything, but let us suppose the diagnosis is 100% correct.
I ask something else: do we believe all life is precious? Do we believe every man, woman and child has the right to live, with dignity, during as much time as God allowed them on this earth - in the mother's womb and outside it - be it many years, or a just a few years, months, days or minutes?
If we do, the logical outcome is obvious: since all life is a precious gift and miracle made by our Creator, it should be handled with reverence and care by those who solemnly vowed, first, to do no harm. But what happens if we don't? What happens if we begin making considerations about which life is worthwhile, and which is not?
Let's start with mothers who are told that their baby "cannot live anyway". Wrong. The baby can and does live, right now. Its life, like the life of each and every one of us, is limited by our Father and King. Yet who are we to make further limitations to this life? Who are we to end it - just to get it over with, for pure convenience?
After I did further research - and at some point I wished I hadn't, because it deeply upset me - I heard about cases of women who had abortions, with the approval of their rabbi, after the unborn baby was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Horror of horrors. I had the chance to know several people with Down syndrome who volunteered on our campus, and they had the most bright, outgoing, cheerful and kind personalities. My blood freezes at the thought that these people might not have been allowed to be born, just because they aren't perfect. Where does this stop? Is life considered not worth living with disabilities (don't we all have limitations, to some extent - even those of us who are labeled "normal")? What about someone who becomes disabled because of an accident? What about elderly people who are no longer "useful"? As you can see, a pit of dark and horrifying possibilities opens when we let ourselves become the judges of which life is worthwhile, who is acceptable and who isn't...
We mustn't forget this, too: it's impossible to "undo" a pregnancy. A woman who is 25 weeks along and discovers her unborn child has Down syndrome cannot "rewind" and turn back time. When she is told she must "do something about it", let us make no mistake - it's suggested to her that her baby should be brutally torn limb by limb from the safety of her womb.
We believe each soul is sent to this world with a purpose. It must be purified through earthly life, before it can return to the Heavenly Throne. For some, it will mean a long life. Some need a shorter time to be in this world, perhaps only in the mother's womb. We don't know the Creator's purpose, so how can we decide? We have His blessing to heal, to try and correct that which is wrong in this world - but disposing of life doesn't correct anything. It doesn't heal. It leaves dark, hollow emptiness behind.
I hope none of my readers were upset by reading this. I believe it's especially important for pregnant women not to dwell on dark thoughts, which is why I'm going to wrap this up now. I'm going to sit for a while in a quiet corner, place a hand on my tummy, feel the sweet baby inside, and revel in the miracle of life.