Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A middle ground on abortion?

On one of my rabbinic e-lists, a colleague by the name of Rabbi Larry Milder offered an interesting take on abortion. I don't have any illusions that it would, in any way, resolve the national debate on this issue. But, he did suggest a paradigm that could make for some constructive discussion among the non-radicals who are left out there. And, it just so happens that this paradigm comes from the Talmud.

As we all know, “personhood” has become the current term among Right-to-Life supporters. The idea is that at the moment of conception, a full person is created. A single-cell zygote has the exact same legal status as a born human being, including all of the rights that accompany that status.

This rabbi (I'm keeping him anonymous only because I haven't asked his permission to quote him) looks at the Talmudic principle of ubar yerech imo—a fetus is like the thigh of the mother. His interpretation/expansion of this principle is that this means that a fetus is not a person, but it is human.

My thigh isn't a person. But, it's human. It's a part of me. And, if you start combining it with enough other parts of me, eventually, you get a person. By itself, it isn't a whole person, but, that doesn't mean that it's nothing—it's not worthless. By being human, and by being a part of me, it still has sacred value, and although I may not be politically/intellectually comfortable with talking about its “rights,” I (and we) do seem to have some obligations towards it. It's not “just a thigh.” It's my thigh.

Wondering what others think about this model of thinking, and if there's any hope that this kind of language, even if it can't end this debate, can at least allow some discussions to happen on a higher level.

* I just re-read his original post, and to be fair, I think he's also taking a political tack. By calling a fetus "human but not person," the pro-choice supporters can reclaim some moral high-ground from the "pro-life" side. And, we can shift the debate to: when does "human" become "a person," which is a much harder debate to claim as absolute, in theory. Still--interesting to me.

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