Rabbi Reveals Why Abortion Access Is Important—and Supported by Scripture

A Rabbi is going viral on Twitter for his thread explaining why abortion access is supported by scripture amid the leak of a Supreme Court decision draft that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Rabbi Daniel Bogard of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, wrote a thread Tuesday evening, which has been liked over 64,000 times and retweeted more than 16,000 times. In it, he cites the Torah—which Christians recognize as the first five books of the Bible—to make his case.

"For Jews who can become pregnant, access to abortion services is a religious *requirement*, and has been for thousands of years. Surprised? Let's dig into some of the texts," Rabbi Bogard opens.

First, he cites Exodus 21:22: "If men strive and hurt a woman with child so that her fruit depart from her and yet no mischief follow he shall be surely punished according as the woman's husband will lay upon him and he shall pay as the judges determine," in the King James Version translation, and the following verse: "And if any mischief follow then thou shalt give life for life."

"The Torah literally couldn't be more explicit: a fetus is not a human life," Bogard says.

He follows up with a quote from the Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi that appears in the Talmud, the text that's the primary source of religious law and theology for the Jewish people. HaNasi said that "A fetus is its mother's thigh," or, in other words, part of the pregnant person's body.

Bogard points to other scripture as backing up HaNasi's view of the fetus. In the Mishnah, sometimes called the "Oral Torah" as it's a collection of Jewish oral traditions, if a pregnant person is to be executed, lawmakers should not delay the execution unless the person is in labor.

The Mishnah is even more explicit when it comes to abortion in the case the pregnant person is in danger if a birth occurs.

"A person who is having trouble giving birth, they abort the fetus and take it out limb by limb, because existing life comes before potential life. If most of the child has come out already they do not touch it, for we do not push off one life for another," Bogard writes, quoting Mishnah Oholot 7:6.

"'Rodef' is a legal category in Judaism for someone/something on the way to kill a human being. Jewish law obligates us to stop a Rodef at any cost--up to and including taking their life. Thus, a pregnancy that endangers life is considered a Rodef and *must* be terminated," Bogard continues.

Bogard says that though this may look like abortion is only an option for pregnant people in the case where carrying the fetus to term could cause death or physical injury, that isn't the case.

"Not just literally their life, but also their well-being, their mental health, and all sorts of other explanations that encompass the vast majority of the reasons that folks pursue abortions," he says. "All of which is to say: laws that limit or criminalize abortion aren't just violations of the human rights of every person who can become pregnant, but are also infringements on the religious liberty of every American Jew, and an imposition of governmental Christianity on us all."

abortion protest rabbi torah mishnah roe wade
Rabbi Daniel Bogard laid out his reasoning that the Jewish tradition requires accessible abortion. In this photo, abortion rights advocates protest in front of the Supreme Court building in the wake of a leaked decision draft that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Christian anti-abortion advocates, however, argue that Bogard's reading of Exodus 21:22-3 isn't correct. In 1989, Christian anti-abortion activist John Piper argued that some translations of the verses, Exodus 21:22 refers to a miscarriage being caused, while others refer to a premature birth.

"In the former case the unborn is not treated with the same rights as the mother, because the miscarriage is not counted as serious loss to be recompensed life for life. In the latter case the unborn is treated the same as the mother because the child is included in the stipulation that if injury comes there shall be life for life," Piper wrote.

His argument is that though the Hebrew verb for "to miscarry" appears later in Exodus, but not in this verse, saying that the verb for "go forth" only applies to a live birth.

Bogard, however, tells Newsweek that comparing his interpretation and Piper's is like "apples and oranges."

"Fundamentally Christianity and Judaism operate in really different ways. Judaism has thousands of years of conversations/interpretations/philosophy/legal rulings/precedent that inform the conversation and the understanding of issues, rather than an approach which is based on how we interpret a particular text," he said.

Update 5/4, 8:10 p.m.: This article has been updated to include comment from Rabbi Bogard.