Damsel In Distress
‘A Woman In Labor Is Considered Critically Ill’
The Mishnah (128b) teaches that Shabbos may be desecrated for a woman giving birth. When does the giving birth period begin? The Gemara says: when the womb opens.
The sages of Neharda’ei maintain that the woman is considered critically ill (choleh she’yesh bo sakana) for seven days after she has given birth; therefore, we may violate Shabbos for her if fulfilling a request requires it. Until the third day, though, we may violate Shabbos in caring for her even if she doesn’t request anything.
The Lady Doth Protest
The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 330:9) writes that if a physician contradicts the mother and maintains that a proposed treatment is vital to her well being, we violate Shabbos for her even after three days.
Rashi (sv “davar she’ein bo sakana”) indicates, as a general rule, that Shabbos may only be desecrated for care without which the patient’s life would be in danger. Desecrating Shabbos is not allowed, though, to provide a patient with additional comfort that isn’t essential to survival.
Coals To Newcastle
The Magid Mishnah (to Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shabbos 2:14) infers from the Ramban that we may desecrate Shabbos for a critically-ill patient (choleh she’yesh bo sakana) even to the point of lighting a fire to provide heat in the summer.
The Gemara (supra 128b) states that not only may we kindle a lamp on Shabbos for a woman in labor, but we may do so even if she’s blind.
Peace Of Mind
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chayim I:132) discusses whether a husband can accompany his wife to the hospital in a taxi on Shabbos if she’s in labor and his presence would give her peace of mind (just like a lamp can be kindled for a blind woman). Rabbi Feinstein concludes that the husband may go because sitting in a taxi does not involve a Biblical violation.
Rabbi Yeshaye Karelitz (Kovetz Igros 141) not only permits a man to accompany his wife to the hospital; he strongly urges every husband to do so.