Monitor Board of Contributors: Abortion, Holocaust are two very different things
Virginia Austin’s letter, “A greater holocaust” (Monitor, March 25) is problematic for several reasons.
First, while I applaud Austin’s recognition of the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, her assertion that “we Americans are guilty of a greater and ongoing holocaust,” because of the legal right a woman has to terminate her pregnancy, and asserting that the termination of a pregnancy uses “more painful means than gas chambers,” is offensive.
To even try to make the comparison – that the pain felt by living men, women and children, stripped of their dignity and rights, shivering naked and in fear, and then sent into gas chambers like cattle in order to be murdered en mass somehow pales in comparison to the pain felt by a fetus in an abortion – simply boggles the mind.
In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, written by physicians at Medical School at the University of California, San Francisco, the authors conclude, “Pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus. . . . Fetal awareness of noxious stimuli requires functional thalamocortical connections. Thalamocortical fibers begin appearing between 23 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, (and evidence) suggests the capacity for functional pain perception in pre-term neonates probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks.” In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy before viability. Viability usually occurs between weeks 24 and 28, before the onset of the capacity to recognize pain.
I cannot help but wonder if Austin used the term “holocaust” in order to gain the sympathy of the Jewish community for her point of view. In Judaism, we believe that life does not begin at conception – but rather, the potential for life does. At all times, the well-being of the mother takes precedent over the potential life
Judaism teaches that if a woman might sustain injury or damage – physical, psychological, and in some cases financial – by carrying the fetus to term, she may terminate her pregnancy. In some circumstances, the fetus is called a “rodef” in Hebrew, meaning a “chaser,” if it would cause serious injury or death to the mother. In that case, Jewish law requires that a woman terminate her pregnancy.
Finally, the word “holocaust” is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” However objectionable Austin finds the termination of pregnancy, a “holocaust” it is not.
(Robin Nafshi is the rabbi at Temple Beth Jacob in Concord.)