A couple of things have crossed my radar recently that don’t really merit posts of their own, but I want to share them with you, so here we are. It’s an odd combo, I grant you. But there is a common thread here: both of these issues are tied together by religious views of (cis) women.
1. The Fetus in Jewish Law; or How My Position On Abortion Turns Out to be Many Centuries Old.
I’ve always supported abortion rights, but I used to be a lot more conservative about it. I’d got infected by the prevailing American squeamishness, and figured abortion should have some restrictions. I was never one of those life-of-mother-only people, but I thought abortions past, say, about four months into the pregnancy maybe should be restricted to threats to the mother’s health and problems with the fetus and so forth. Then, as I began to learn more about what pregnancy does to a woman, and as abortion foes made inroads on abortion rights, I decided fuck restrictions. I actually got to a point where I figured a pregnant person should be able to have an abortion any damned time they pleased, up to and including right around labor. Until that fetus was actually on its way out, it had no rights to use another person’s body whatsoever. And the formerly conservative part of me sort of cringed at that. I mean, it’s pretty extreme, right?
Turns out that Jewish rabbis have been ahead of me for centuries.
An unborn fetus in Jewish law is not considered a person (Heb. nefesh, lit. “soul”) until it has been born. The fetus is regarded as a part of the mother’s body and not a separate being until it begins to egress from the womb during parturition (childbirth). In fact, until forty days after conception, the fertilized egg is considered as “mere fluid.”
There’s some really fascinating stuff in this article, showing how rabbis parsed passages in Exodus and Leviticus to determine that the fetus, while being something that you’d need to compensate the parents for if you caused a miscarriage, was not actually a person. They figured that the laws on what happens if you kill a person were quite clear: you were supposed to be put to death. So the fact that the Bible just asks you to pay some cash to compensate for the injury if you caused a miscarriage means you’re not actually a murderer. And there’s even more stuff in the Talmud that supports my “extreme” position:
Turning to talmudic sources, the Mishnah asserts the following: “If a woman is having difficulty in giving birth [and her life is in danger], one cuts up the fetus within her womb and extracts it limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over that of the fetus. But if the greater part was already born, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for that of another.”
I found it fascinating that they weren’t going by when the fetus was big enough for its movements to be felt by the pregnant person, but whether it was already almost completely born. And while I may not have a lot of respect for religion, I do respect many talmudic philosophers. They think quite deeply about issues (and some of the things they do to really terrible Bible stories actually transforms them into important, enlightened lessons: see, for instance, their interpretation of the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac). I find it quite interesting that we agree on this issue, although we came to our conclusions from much different directions.
Maybe this is why we don’t usually see a lot of Jewish people hanging out on the sidewalks in front of abortion clinics, screaming abuse at the people going in. That’s pretty much a Christian thing. Dunno why: it’s not like Jesus ever said anything about abortion, but whatevs.
Thank Stephanie for finding that article. It was fascinating.
2. Vaginas are not like milk cartons. (Content note if you read that review: it’s about a V.C. Andrews book, so prepare for copious amounts of rape, CSA, incest, and other extreme fucked-uppendess.)
On a semi-related note on account of having to do with religion and its attitudes towards women, I came across this utter gem on purity in a review of a V.C. Andrews book:
Vaginas are not like milk cartons. There’s no sell-by date. They don’t go bad. They don’t need to be pasteurized and kept pure. They aren’t in need of refrigeration in cold, sterile, dark places. If someone else opens it up, it doesn’t lose its value or its ability to keep things fresh. It doesn’t need to be returned to the store if you find someone else has tampered with it. It’s still good. It’s not gross or weird if someone before you put his or her mouth on the vagina.
Okay? Got it? Good.
This is now my go-to retort when people start babbling about sexual purity. I’ve even created this helpful illustration to use as a shortcut:
And I suppose we can do one for fetuses as well: