My boyfriend wants to abort our Down Syndrome fetus. What do I do?

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I am 20 weeks pregnant, and am shocked and devastated to have just received the results from pre-natal testing that I am carrying a Downs Syndrome fetus. My husband wants me to do an abortion, and I am very confused and don’t know what the right thing is to do. What does Judaism have to say about this?


Dear Evelyn ,

I am so sorry you have received these results and feel your pain and confusion. This is truly a frightful and difficult issue to discuss, especially in the impersonal environs of a newspaper column. I will, nevertheless, try to provide you with some background and perhaps peace of mind on this issue.

Judaism essentially considers a fetus which has passed the 40th day since conception to be a living person endowed with a soul. For that reason abortion is generally forbidden. 

The main exception to this rule is if the fetus or its birth pose any threat to the mother’s life. In that case the mother’s life supersedes the life of the fetus, and abortion would be permitted. 

Those cases, however, are exceptions. The leading 20th century authority of Jewish law, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, concludes that the prohibition of abortion to apply even when the birth of the fetus would result in a severely handicapped child, such as a Tay-Sachs fetus. 

 Just as killing a 5 or 10 year old child who was afflicted with this condition would obviously constitute murder, so too with a fetus. It all depends on your definition of life. I have often felt that somehow the term “fetus” hides the true nature of the unborn baby. Since an unborn baby’s existence in the womb hides it from view it is also hidden from our awareness and consideration as a living human being. 

Judaism considers any selection process based on the mental or physical aptitude of the person as immoral.

We are not able to judge the ultimate value of any human being. In the spiritual realm a Downs Syndrome child has a very unique mission in this world. The venerable 20th century sage Rabbi Yeshaya Karelitz was known to fully rise before a Downs Syndrome child like he would rise for a great sage. He would explain that the souls of such children are very unique, nearly perfect, and only need the slightest amount of “tikun” or completion in this world, since they have nearly perfected themselves in a previous life. Hence, they need not go through the trials and tribulations we “regular” people need to experience to achieve our completion. 

For these unique people it is sufficient that they have been brought back to this world, in the state they are in, to achieve their completion. This is so that when they enter the next world they will enjoy complete bliss and reward with nothing amiss. 

Another of their purposes in this world is to afford the opportunity to those around them to fulfill the mitzvah of bestowing kindness upon another with no hopes of being repaid for their kindness. This is an altruistic mitzvah in its purest and loftiest form.

Furthermore, despite the difficulties in raising them, these children become very precious to their parents and families who often deeply sense their uniqueness and the beauty of their souls.

Lastly, many studies utilizing computer expression have shown that often these children possess uncanny levels of intuition, perception and understanding of world events, knowledge of multiple languages and ability to express deep emotion. This bears out Rabbi Karelitz’s feeling that these children have specially unique souls. 

Consider this only background material. Please discuss your own particular situation in person with an authority of Jewish law, taking in consideration your own health and other surrounding factors to come to a final decision. In Judaism there’s never “one answer fits all” with regards to questions such as these.

May G-d grant you the strength to do what’s right and to endure the tests ahead, which, if you succeed, could catapult you to spiritual levels you previously never thought possible. 


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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