WE . . .SUMMON A MIDWIFE FOR HER FROM PLACE TO PLACE, DESECRATE THE SABBATH ON HER ACCOUNT, AND TIE UP THE NAVEL-STRING.
R. JOSE SAID: ONE MAY CUT [IT] TOO.
(as an aside, the Mishnah also specifies that everything needed for a circumcision may be done on Shabbat. It must be the 8th day – even if that day is Shabbat).
Now, although these allowances are fairly clear. After all childbirth cannot wait, nor can the procedures necessary. And bringing in a midwife, even if she must desecrate the Sabbath to do so, seems to fit in. But the rabbis go further:
Rab Judah said in Samuel's name: If a woman is in confinement, as long as the uterus is open, whether she states, 'I need it,' or 'I do not need it,' we must desecrate the Sabbath on her account.
Now it is no longer a “we may” but “we must.” And the woman’s opinion is not relevant so long as the medical professional declares her in active labor.
But beyond this is where there is disagreement:
If the uterus is closed, whether she says, 'I need it' or 'I do not need it,' we may not desecrate the Sabbath for her: that is how R. Ashi recited it.
Mar Zutra recited it thus: Rab Judah said in Samuel's name: . . .
If the uterus is closed, if she says, 'I need it,' we desecrate the Sabbath for her; if she does not say, 'I need it,' we do not desecrate the Sabbath for her.
Here, according to R. Ashi the woman’s opinion still does not matter. However in Mar Zurtra’s reading, when not in active labor, the woman’s opinion and request is the only criterion.
So which is it?
Rabina asked Meremar: Mar Zutra recited it in the direction of leniency, [while] R. Ashi recited it in the direction of stringency; which is the law? — The law is as Mar Zutra, replied [Meremar]: where [a matter of] life is in doubt we are lenient.
The potential saving of a life outweighs the law of Shabbat. And the woman’s voice decides.