Halacha for Monday 13 Tevet 5781 December 28 2020

Inducing Labor

Question: If a woman is already full-term and the doctor suggests injecting her with Pitocin in order to induce labor, would this pose any halachic issue?

Answer: This question was actually posed to Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (in his Reponsa Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah, Volume 2, Chapter 74) and he rules that it is forbidden to inject medication into the mother in order to induce labor, for the following reason:

It is well-known that one may not place one’s self into a dangerous situation, such as walking on very weak bridge from which one can fall off. Similarly, childbirth is also considered a precarious situation and nonetheless, Hashem has commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. The verse states, “He has not created it to be void, He has created it to be inhabited,” for Hashem wishes us to procreate and inhabit the world. Thus, if the time for natural birth arrives and the woman does not do anything actively to put herself in harm’s way, there is certainly no prohibition here and on the contrary, she is fulfilling the will and blessing of Hashem by giving birth to children. However, when external actions are taken in order to hasten the time for childbirth, the woman will actively be placing herself in harm’s way and thus, Hashem’s blessing that protects a woman during childbirth will not be applicable here and this will certainly be forbidden.

Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Taharat Ha’Bayit, Volume 2, page 54) quotes the opinion of Hagaon Harav Feinstein and after probing it somewhat, he adds the words of the Sefer Ha’Kaneh who writes that if one gives an amulet containing holy names to a pregnant woman in order to hasten her delivery, sometimes this can lead to killing two lives and sometimes, this act can cause irreparable damage to the newborn, for it is entirely possible that the child should have been born during a certain constellation and as a result of the amulet, he will be born earlier and possibly live a much shorter life. Hashem shall seek out vengeance from the person who provided the amulet for killing the child by having it be born before its proper time and changing the natural course of events.

Furthermore, the great Rabbeinu Ha’Ari z”l writes in the Gate of Ruach Ha’Kodesh that one who gives an amulet to a woman to hasten her birth causes the child to be born prematurely and this in turn causes the child to die earlier than he should have or to live a life of poverty and suffering. Maran zt”l writes that this prohibition certainly applies to a doctor who injects the pregnant woman with medication in order to induce labor, for he is taking action to cause the woman to give birth earlier.

We must nevertheless point out that there are many times where the doctor wishes to induce labor because of a low water level, the woman’s weakness, or some other possibility of danger or distress to the baby which modern medicine dictates are all sufficient reasons to induce (as opposed to reasons of convenience or other nonsensical things). In these cases, one should certainly follow the guidance of the doctor and allow inducing labor, for this will be considered the appropriate time for giving birth. One should follow the guidance of doctors on almost anything having to do with the understanding of medicine, especially if this borders on a situation of possible danger.

Summary: Inducing labor for convenience or any other nonsensical reason is incorrect according to Halacha. However, when there is pressing medical need to do so, one should listen to the advice of the doctors.

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