Abortion in Israel

Abortion in Israel is permitted in limited cases. It is determined by a termination committee under various circumstances and is considered as one of the most liberal abortion procedures in the world.[1] Prior to 2014, however, approval for an abortion in Israel by a termination committee was given under more limited circumstances, such as if the woman is unmarried, because of age (if the woman is under the age of 18 - the legal marriage age in Israel - or over the age 40), the pregnancy was conceived under illegal circumstances (rape, statutory rape, etc.) or an incestuous relationship, birth defects, risk of health to the mother, and life of the mother.[1]

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics report from 2004, in 2003 most abortion requests were granted, with 19,500 legal abortions performed and 200 requests for abortion denied. Reasons for termination went as follows: the woman was unmarried (42%), because of illegal circumstances (11%), health risks to the woman (about 20%), age of the woman (11%) and fetal birth defects (about 17%).[2] Women who would not qualify for an abortion under the statutory scheme may seek an abortion at a private clinic.

It was reported in 2012 that about half of all abortions in Israel were performed illegally in private doctors' clinics without the approval from a committee. Women who get such an abortion do not face criminal penalties, but physicians who performed them faced a fine or up to five years' imprisonment, but there have been no known prosecutions of doctors for performing illegal abortions.[3] It was also reported in 2007 and 2011 that about 40,000 abortions take place in Israel every year, about half of them legal.[2][4]

Legal position

Clauses 312-321 of the 1977 penal code limit the circumstances when an abortion is legal in Israel. Abortions must be approved by a termination committee. Abortions can only be performed by licensed gynecologists in recognized medical facilities that are specifically and publicly recognized as a provider of abortions.[5] However, the Israeli Cabinet updated the 1977 law in 2014 to allow abortion on demand for nearly every woman in the country seeking an abortion.[1]

Circumstances under which abortion is approved

Under a 1977 abortion law, a termination committee can approve an abortion, under sub-section 316a,[5] in the following circumstances:

  1. The woman is younger than the legal marriage age in Israel (which presently is 18, raised from 17 in April 2013)[6] or older than forty. (was later amended to also include women under the age of twenty)[1]
  2. The pregnancy was conceived under illegal circumstances (rape, statutory rape etc.), in an incestuous relationship, or outside of marriage.
  3. The fetus may have a physical or mental birth defect.
  4. Continued pregnancy may put the woman's life in risk, or damage her physically or mentally.

Previously, cases where the woman is between the ages of 20-33, and/or was granted an abortion due to the baby being conceived under illegal circumstances or incest, the fetus had a serious physical or mental defect, mother was not married, or the mother's health was in danger, the state pays for the abortion. However, the law was modified in 2014 to allow a free state-subsidized "health basket" for any woman seeking an abortion.[1] Women who get pregnant while doing their military service are entitled to free, state-financed abortion.[7][8]

In practice, most requests for abortion that qualify for the above are granted, and leniency is shown especially under the clause for emotional or psychological damage to the pregnant woman. The committees have approved 98 percent of requests.[9]

Structure of the committee

There are 41 termination committees operating in public or private hospitals across Israel. These committees consist of three members, two of which are licensed physicians, and one a social worker.[5] Of the two physicians, one must be an expert on obstetrics and gynaecology, and the other one either OB/GYN, internal medicine, psychiatry, family medicine or public health. At least one member must be a woman. Six separate committees consider abortion requests when the fetus is beyond 24 weeks old.

Abortion debate in Israel

There is an abortion debate in Israel, although it is marginalised by more publicised and controversial issues. The debate as to the morality of abortion is antecendental to the debate about separation of religion and state in the context of Israel as a Jewish State and a democratic country.

Jewish Orthodox organizations, including political parties, strongly oppose abortion because Jewish law views abortion as a (lesser) form of murder. Political parties which support this view include Shas, a Sephardic Haredi party, United Torah Judaism, an Ashkenazi Haredi party, and Jewish Home, a Religious Zionist party. A study published in 2001 found that opposition to abortion among Israelis was correlated to strong religious beliefs — particularly Haredi beliefs — below-average income, larger family size, and identification with right-wing politics.[10]

The Left-wing political party Meretz argues in favor of legalised abortion for reasons of personal liberty. In 2006, MK Zehava Gal-On of Meretz proposed a bill that would eliminate the termination committee, effectively decriminalizing unrestricted abortion. Gal-On argued that women with financial means can have abortions in private clinics, bypassing the committee and therefore gaining rights based on their wealth. The bill was rejected by a wide margin.

When the relevant section of the penal code was originally written, it contained a "social clause" permitting women to seek abortions for social reasons, such as economic distress.[5] The clause was withdrawn in 1980 under the initiative of the Orthodox parties (see Shas, United Torah Judaism and National Religious Party).

This clause is still under debate in Israel. In 2004, MK Reshef Chen of Shinui submitted an addendum to reinstate the clause, arguing that under present circumstances, women with financial problems must lie to the termination committee to obtain approval under the emotional or psychological damage clause, and that "no advanced country forces its citizens to lie in order to preserve religious, chauvinistic, patronizing archaic values." Women's organizations such as Naamat voiced their agreement with the proposal.[11]

Women's organizations such as Naamat[12] and Shdulat HaNashim (women's lobby)[13] argue in favor for feminist, pro-choice reasons, such as reproductive rights.

Efrat[14] is a religious organization that lobbies against abortions, as well as offering financial support for women who are considering abortion for economic reasons. Efrat's campaign includes stickers with the slogan, "Don't abort me" (Hebrew: אל תפילו אותי). Be'ad Chaim[15] is a Messianic/Christian pro-life nonprofit association. Another organization which provides financial support and counseling to women who consider undergoing an abortion is Just One Life (J.O.L.) [16] - which in Hebrew is known as Nefesh Achat B'Yisrael.

See also


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