JERUSALEM—Fearful that repercussions from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade could empower the pro-life movement in Israel, a committee in the outgoing Knesset approved new rules that make it much easier to get an abortion here.
Now HMOs will be able to distribute abortion pills rather than require a woman to go to a hospitals and women can apply for an abortion without having to face a committee.
This parting piece of legislation comes just hours before the Israeli government will be dissolved and was voted on in the Labor and Welfare Committee amid shrill criticism surrounding America's decision to declassify abortion as a constitutional right and instead put the power back into the hands of the states.
“The rights to a woman’s body are those of the woman alone,” Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said in a statement. “The move by the U.S. Supreme Court to deny women control of their bodies is a backward move, oppressing women and setting back the leader of the free and liberal world by a hundred years.”
The ire in Israel over the U.S. decision shot across society and right to the top echelons of government.
“American has gone 50 years backwards,” said one anchor on Channel 12, decrying the ruling on Friday night.
“The largest democracy in the world says that women are not allowed to have an abortion. We must immediately ensure that supporters of that idea in Israel will not be inspired by this dangerous idea,” Economy Minister Orna Barbivay said on Twitter on Friday.
Before today's vote, the doctor who runs the abortion committee at Beilinson Hospital, told Army Radio Israel should hurry to further liberalize its laws – abolishing abortion panels altogether for women in their first trimester and allowing “any woman to terminate their pregnancy if that is her wish.”
If not, “we are liable to fall into the Dark Ages like America, and girls will need to get illegal abortions,” Dr. Roni Chen said.
On the contrary, Be’ad Chaim (Pro-Life) director Sandy Shoshani – who has been fighting for the unborn in Israel for years – said she would love for Israel to take inspiration from America.
“We’ve been trying to raise the bar here for a long time and say, 'Children also deserve the right to live,'” Shoshani told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “There’s no real voice here. We have a small voice, but people are not listening – they are so angry.”
The noise from the pro-abortion crowd is drowning out the voices of women who were fully informed and had the chance to consider their options – and chose not to terminate their pregnancy.
“You’re not seeing the women who were pregnant and deliberated their choice,” she said. “Nobody is yelling that out, but those women are thankful.”
Most Israelis don’t understand the charged American debate surrounding the issue and do not consider it a moral underpinning. In Israel, the right to get an abortion is not debated on in political circles nor is it controversial.
In fact, the only controversy is how lenient it should be.
“Sometimes when we start to talk about being pro-life here it is something that for a lot of people is a foreign concept,” Ariel Hyde of Tree of Life Ministries told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “It's not like in the U.S. where its almost halfway divided. For a lot of Israelis it's not even a question – it's a given. That’s just what you do.”
Abortion became legal in Israel in 1977. The same questionnaire that a woman must submit when requesting an abortion is used today as was back then. The form, critics argue, is antiquated and asks probing questions which sometimes compel some women to lie about their reasons for wanting to end their pregnancy.
Horowitz had set out to loosen these restrictions in December.
Now the form will be digitized and the woman will not have to appear before the committee.
Currently, the cut-off date for an abortion is nine weeks into the pregnancy. After that, committee approval is required up until 24 weeks. After that, another specialized committee must approve the abortion. But, technically, terminating a pregnancy is legal in Israel up to birth in specific circumstances.
Abortion is also state funded for women younger than 18 or older than 40; women who are single; if the pregnancy is a result of infidelity, incest or rape; if the child is diagnosed with a physical or mental defect; and if carrying the baby to term endangers the woman’s life or causes her emotional harm.
In 2020, the committees approved 99.6% of the requests to end pregnancies, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
In 2019, 17,688 Israeli women applied for an abortion and only 106 were turned down. The Israel Defense Services performed 1,000 abortions in 2018 for female soldiers.
One Israeli abortion-rights activist said Israel may appear more lenient than other nations in obtaining an abortion, but “an attempt to evaluate abortion policies by focusing on the high percentage of committees’ approvals of pregnancy terminations obscures part of the story.”
“It masks the fact that for all women and especially married women, access to legal abortion in Israel comes with a heavy price tag, one which involves a procedure that undermines their human dignity, bodily integrity, and autonomy by treating them as objects and not as full subjects of rights,” argued Noya Rimalt, a professor of law at the University of Haifa and the founding co-director of the Forum for Gender, Law and Policy.
Rimalt said that married women especially have a higher burden of proof and would have to misrepresent themselves or lie that they committed adultery or suffer from mental problems in order to gain approval to abort – and these lies could be used against them in the future.
But it appears that with these new regulations, it just got easier to terminate a pregnancy in the Holy Land.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS