Everyone agrees that an abortion beyond a certain gestational age is forbidden for a Jew 1. However, there's no death penalty for it. This is unlike a non-Jew, who is liable to capital punishment for destroying a fetus 2 (Tosafos to Sanhedrin 59a s.v. ליכא, quoting Sanhedrin 57b).

However, there are certain circumstances where an abortion is permissible or mandatory. For example, if the fetus is a lethal threat to the mother (Oholos 7:6). Sometimes there are other considerations as well, and a person should always ask their competent halachic authority.

What I'm wondering is, in the situation that a abortion is permissible (or even mandatory), who should perform it? A Jewish doctor, and not a non-Jewish one (since for them it's seemingly a more serious transgression)? Or even a non-Jewish doctor can? Is it better for the mother to do it herself, it at all possible? Does it make a difference? Does it matter if the reason the abortion is permissible is because of a threat to life (in which case the doctor should be allowed), or for other reasons (in which case, why should the doctor be allowed if the mother could)?

I'm not so familiar with how they do abortions. I would imagine in certain cases there's simply a pill to take (early in the pregnancy), and later in the pregnancy a procedure needs to be performed. I'm more wondering the latter. Where a procedure needs to be performed, who should do it?

For a potentially related discussion: See Imrei Moshe § 12, who discusses the prohibition of cutting off one's peyos. If for medical reasons someone has to have them cut off, he wonders if it's better to have a non-Jew do it, since they aren't prohibited in cutting off someone's peyos, rather than a Jew, who is prohibited from cutting. He then innovates that if the person themself is allowed to have their peyos cut off, someone else wouldn't have the prohibition of cutting it. That may or may not be helpful here.

1 There are different suggestions for what the prohibition is. See this answer to a related question.

2 See this related question.


1 Answer 1


Here are some relevant sources on the topic. It's a start for an answer. Hopefully I'll find more as time progresses.

Nishmas Avraham IV 425:1:30 by Rabbi Dr. Avraham Sofer Avraham (1935-) brings a responsum from the Tzitz Eliezer XX 2:4 by Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (1915-2006) regarding a woman who has quadruplets, and the doctors determine that if they don't terminate one of the fetuses, all of them will be in be danger of not surviving the pregnancy. He says they may terminate the one to save the other three. He adds that if necessary they may use a non-Jewish doctor, even though for non-Jews it's a capital crime, since the doctor's intent is to save the other three. He says it's best to ensure that the doctor that determined this threat to the other three be the one to do the procedure on the one.

It sounds like from this that it would be best to find a Jewish doctor (even though he didn't explicitly say that), since he says "if necessary" to use a non-Jewish doctor. This is specifically referring to a case of loss of life.

In Nishmas Avraham ibid § 31 he brings from the sefer HaRefuah LeOhr HaHalacha I Chapter 12 p. 121 that according to all halachic authorities, a woman who needs an abortion should use a Jewish doctor, since for them it's not a capital crime. Even though it is nevertheless forbidden to perform an abortion, the prohibition is pushed aside to save a life. She should not use a non-Jewish doctor, as for them it's a capital crime, and it would be lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block, if she would use a non-Jewish doctor. In Nishmas Avraham I 656:1:3 fn. 31 he writes that Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) in Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:69 also ruled it's forbidden for a non-Jewish doctor to perform an abortion to save the life of a Jewish mother. Although, looking at his words there, all I see is him explaining Tosafos (cited in the OP), not necessarily ruling anything. Unless I missed something.

Again, this only addresses abortions in the case of saving a life, not for other reasons. HaRefuah LeOhr HaHalacha also seems to ignore the opinion of the Tzitz Eliezer above, who allows a non-Jewish doctor when necessary, as well as the sources below.

Something else that's relevant is Nishmas Avraham IV 425:1:33 brings sources that say a non-Jew isn't punished for performing an abortion on a fetus less than forty days old, as the fetus is negligible in halacha in that time period.

He continues and brings sources that we can be lenient and allow a non-Jewish doctor to perform the abortion to save the life of the mother, if it's impossible to use a Jewish doctor. However, if the abortion is not about saving the mother's life, he brings from Teshuvos Lev Aryeh 2:32 by Rav Aryeh Leib Grosnas (1912-1996) that it's forbidden to use a non-Jewish doctor.

So if I'm understanding correctly it's a dispute between the Tzitz Eliezer and the Lev Aryeh if you can use a non-Jewish doctor if we're not worried about the life of the mother. However, the Tzitz Eliezer is discussing saving the life of the fetuses, and I didn't find someone who allows a non-Jewish doctor if there's no threat to life to anyone.

See also Nishmas Avraham II 154:2 at the end regarding a dispute if there's lifnei iver on a non-Jewish doctor when there are other non-Jewish doctors around.

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