Forward Thinking

How Good Is Israel’s New Abortion Policy?

By Sigal Samuel

  • Print
  • Share Share

A doctor performs a sonogram on a pregnant woman on November 9, 2011. / Getty Images

It’s not every day that progressives get to see encouraging policy changes coming out of Israel, so we should celebrate them when they do come along — even if they don’t go quite as far as we might like.

Starting next year, Israel will pay for all abortions for women between the ages of 20 and 33, health officials announced Monday. Currently, women under 20 or over 40 can receive subsidized abortions for personal reasons, but women in between those ages are only eligible in cases of medical emergency or forbidden relations like rape, incest or adultery — elective abortions aren’t covered. The new funding, which will cover elective abortions, is part of Israel’s state-subsidized “health basket” for 2014, and will go into effect pending approval by the Health Ministry and the Cabinet.

Contraception isn’t included under the new policy, but officials say that’s just due to budgetary constraints. They have indicated that they plan to expand coverage in the future, eventually offering subsidized abortions to women of all ages. In the meantime, this is a pretty good start.

And yet, it bears noting that women seeking state-funded abortions will still need to appear before a government committee to make their case and obtain approval. Even though the committees approve nearly all requests, this requirement is problematic because, as Roni Piso of the Isha l’Isha (Woman to Woman) organization has noted, “there are women who are afraid to approach the committees in the first place because they fear they are going to be turned down.”

Anecdotally, it’s known that some women brave the committees but feel the need to lie to them about their circumstances — for example, by saying that their pregnancies resulted from adultery — for fear that their request won’t otherwise be approved.

These committees represent a stumbling block that effectively curtails a woman’s right to choose, making her feel afraid and uncomfortable as she seeks out a procedure that is already highly stigmatized. Because it perpetuates these committees, the new policy is not exactly ideal.

But when it comes to Israeli abortion policy, compromise is — and has long been — the name of the game.

That’s because, without government approval, abortion is still technically illegal. Though there are several circumstances under which abortion is allowed, on the books, terminating a pregnancy outside of those circumstances is punishable by up to five years in prison. This legal stance is palatable to the Chief Rabbinate and the ultra-Orthodox population, who oppose abortion based on their reading of Jewish law, but it’s anathema to the country’s secular citizens.

According to Dr. Rebecca Steinfeld, a Visiting Scholar at SOAS who is researching the politics of reproduction in Israel, there’s an unspoken agreement between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular “whereby the secular accept the less-than-ideal legal status of abortion, and don’t push for further liberalization, in return for the Haredim not seeking to further restrict legal access. Secular Israelis are very wary of opening the abortion debate for fear of a religious backlash that could further restrict women’s legal access.”

The introduction of the new health basket is a boon, then, for secular Israelis and advocates of women’s reproductive rights, because what it will do is create undeniable facts on the ground — facts that, in turn, may make progressives less leery of pushing for further liberalization.

Aside from which, even though the new policy may not go as far as we might like, it’s a sign that the political will exists to push back on the Rabbinate’s control over women’s bodies, and to push forward the frontier of women’s rights in Israel. That in itself is good news.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: reproductive rights, abortion, Jewish Women, Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.