NARR 253




New American Reform Responsa


155. The Abortion of an Anencephalic Fetus

QUESTION: Can an anencephalic fetus be aborted? (Rabbi Lane Steinger, Oak Park MI)

ANSWER: An anencephalic fetus may be aborted under certain circumstances. The principal consideration, however, should be the condition of the mother and any danger, psychological or physical, which this fetus may pose. Some mothers may opt to carry the fetus to full term as they may not feel that the diagnosis is absolutely reliable although it is generally considered so. Our feeling about when abortion is permitted is summarized in a fairly full responsum (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa #16). We are willing to permit abortion in the first trimester along with traditional authorities and would permit it later for serious reasons.

If the fetus is brought to term it would be considered a person. This status is attained as soon as the child has left the womb (M Oholot 7.6; Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 425.2; Yad Hil Rotzeah Ushemirat Hanefesh 1.1). Such an infant possesses all the rights of a human being although its life span may be doubtful. That has been the traditional attitude toward all newborn infants.

An anencephalic infant cannot survive for long. After it is clinically dead, vital organs may be taken for transplantation provided, of course, that the parents agree to this and that the other legal procedures have been followed. The human dignity of this child must be preserved as of any other infant.

September 1988


If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.