Reacting to Dobbs, Israel Makes Abortion More Accessible - Word&Way

Reacting to Dobbs, Israel Makes Abortion More Accessible

People attend the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice on the National Mall, May 17, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

JERUSALEM (RNS) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide, has prompted lawmakers in Israel to make it simpler to terminate a pregnancy.

On Sunday (June 26), the parliament’s Labor Welfare and Health Committee approved new regulations to reduce the bureaucracy and intrusive questions that Israeli women have long faced when seeking an abortion.

Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz explicitly linked the committee’s decision to the Supreme Court ruling, which will make it impossible for women in several states to legally end a pregnancy.

“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 100 years,” Horowitz said in a statement.

“We are in a different place, and today we are taking big steps in the right direction. The rights to a woman’s body are those of the woman alone.”

Israel’s long-standing abortion policy is largely influenced by Jewish law, which permits abortions when the mother’s life is in danger, among other circumstances. In most cases, Islamic law permits abortions in the early stages of pregnancy and to save a mother’s life.

Abortion was legalized in Israel in 1977, after which the procedure could be performed legally only by a gynecologist in certain medical facilities, and women seeking an abortion have been required to appear in person before a “termination committee” composed of two physicians, a social worker and, in some instances, a clergyman.

For decades, women have had to tell the committee why they wish to terminate their pregnancy: a medical condition dangerous to the health of the mother or fetus; pregnancy under age 18 or over 40; or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

Additionally, any married Jewish woman who says she was impregnated by a Jewish man who was not her husband would be allowed to terminate because the resulting child would be labeled a mamzer, a tragic status in Judaism.

Under the committee’s new regulations, a pregnant woman will no longer be required to meet the committee in person. Instead, she will be able to submit information to the committee online. While she will still need to answer what many consider to be intrusive questions, there will be fewer such questions, the health ministry said.

In an important step, women in the early stages of pregnancy can be prescribed pills to terminate their pregnancy at their local health clinic and not at a hospital. The pills will be covered by insurance.

Although most of the women seeking abortions in Israel are young and single, many are married, sometimes with several children. They come from every religion and sector of Israeli society.

Israeli women have three children on average, significantly more than in other westernized countries.

Roughly 20,000 abortions are registered in Israel every year, and they are covered by the country’s universal health care system. Several thousand additional abortions take place in private health clinics and aren’t covered by insurance, according to women’s rights activists. Though doing so is technically illegal, no physician or patient has ever been prosecuted for bypassing the termination committees.

While a handful of Israeli groups provide financial assistance to pregnant women to encourage them not to terminate their pregnancy, the “pro-life” movement is small.

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, director and co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, an activist organization founded by Orthodox women, said all women, whether religious or secular, should have unconditional access to abortions.

“I’m relieved to know that instead of further restrictions, Israel is removing some of the draconian hurdles and painful steps a woman must take to end a pregnancy. The need to end a pregnancy should be in the hands of a woman, her medical team and if she chooses, her family,” Jaskoll said.