Introduction to Jewish and Catholic Bioethics: A Comparative Analysis

By Aaron L. Mackler | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
Abortion

AMONG THE ISSUES CONSIDERED IN THIS BOOK, ABORTION presents the greatest divergence between Roman Catholic and Jewish approaches. This divergence is especially dramatic at the theoretical level, with regard to the status of the fetus or unborn child. Catholic writers tend to regard the fetus as a person, with rights essentially equal to that of the mother and others, throughout at least most of pregnancy. Official church teaching, and many theologians, assert that the unborn child must be respected as a person from the time of conception; the overwhelming majority of writers would accord this status no later than the third week of gestation. Jewish thinkers hold that the fetus does not fully acquire the status of a person until birth. Some would grant the fetus a status almost equivalent to that of the pregnant woman; virtually all would acknowledge significant value to the fetus as representing potential life and the miraculous creation of God. The gap between the traditions persists but narrows somewhat on the practical issue of the acceptability of abortion; Jewish thinkers agree that abortion generally is wrong and justifiable only for significant reasons; some Catholic thinkers accept abortion for the most serious reasons, such as saving the mother's life.

In this chapter I survey briefly the historical development of discussion of this topic in each tradition. I then examine contemporary views, first regarding the status of the fetus or unborn child and then the acceptability of abortion in various circumstances. I also devote attention to the call of writers in each tradition to respond to broader issues raised by this topic, including the need to address causes of abortion. I conclude the chapter by summarizing points of agreement and disagreement between the traditions.

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