A Ritual for Abortion

Brucha Aht Rachamaima, sheh’ozeret lanu, livchor chayyim. Amen.

Bless You, Rachamaima, Compassionate Nurturer of Life, who helps us choose life. Amen.

I was on the abortion table when this prayer just came to me, addressed in the feminine — “Brucha Aht” — to “Rachamaima,” a name for God that first birthed itself, 30 years ago, among a small group of women, including me, who were writing one of the first feminist Haggadot. Rachamaima combines three Hebrew words: rechem (womb); rachamim (compassion; related etymologically to “womb”); and ima (mother). Divinity here is a compassionate, female gestater of life. Imagining God in this way came out of a process I called “spiritual activism.”

Sheh-ozeret lanu” [“who helps us”] reflects my theological stance: that there is something “out there” besides us sentient humans. “It” doesn’t have a plan, “it” doesn’t choose life, but it “helps us” — partners and enables us — to see our job, our role, where we need to go. We know about this “something” beyond us that contributes to the world because it happens through us.

The words “You” and “us”: During the abortion, my partner kept whispering the prayer in my ear, over and over, the syllables incantatory. “You” and “us” eradicated my feelings of being, somehow, the only one. They connected me to Divinity, to my partner, and to every woman who ever chose to have an abortion or will one day do so.

The prayer’s message is radically different from the Kaddish or from the words Jews say in response to a death — “Dayan ha-emet!” [“God is the righteous judge!”] — which don’t engage relationally with us, which don’t join us in our sorrow. The Kaddish resolves the unresolvable problem of mortality and anguishing loss by simply trumping it (“Let the glory of God be extolled, let His great name be hallowed, let His great name be blessed.”). My female prayer, on the contrary, is an embrace.

Livchor” — “to choose.” The first time I went to the abortion clinic, I couldn’t go through with it and left with my pregnancy still intact. During the six days that followed, I came to terms with the awesome charter of my choice. Okay, this is inescapable, I told myself. I can’t pretend I’m not doing it. “Pro-choice,” “pro-life” — I was taking
responsibility for my power.