Abortion in Israel
Abortion in Israel is legal under certain circumstances, subject to the approval of a committee for pregnancy termination.
1977 penal code
Clauses 312-321 of the 1977 penal code limit the circumstances when an abortion is legal in Israel. Abortions can only be performed in Israel by licenced gynecologists in recognized medical facilities that are specifically and publicly recognized as a provider of abortions. Abortions must be approved by the termination committee.
Circumstances under which abortion is legal
A termination committee approves abortions, under sub-section 316a, in the following circumstances:
- The woman is younger than seventeen (the legal marriage age in Israel) or older than forty.
- The pregnancy was conceived under illegal circumstances (rape, statutory rape etc.), in an incestuous relationship, or outside of marriage.
- The fetus may have a physical or mental birth defect.
- Continued pregnancy may put the woman's life in risk, or damage her physically or mentally.
In cases where the woman is granted an abortion due to the baby being conceived under illegal circumstances or incest, the fetus has a serious physical or mental defect, or the mother's health is in danger, the state pays for the abortion. In all other cases, the abortion is carried out at the woman's expense.
Women who get pregnant while doing their military service are entitled to free, state-financed abortion.
There are 41 termination committees operating in public or private hospitals across Israel. These committees consist of a physician whose field of expertise is obstetrics or gynecology, another physician who is either a family doctor, psychiatrist, internist or gynecologist, and a social worker. At least one member must be a woman. Six separate committees consider abortion requests when the fetus is beyond 24 weeks old.
In practice, most requests for abortion are granted, and leniency is shown especially under the clause for emotional or psychological damage to the pregnant woman. In addition, about half of all abortions are performed illegally in private doctors' clinics without approval from a committee. Though women who get an illegal abortion face no criminal penalties, physicians who perform them can face a fine or up to five years' imprisonment, but there have been no known prosecutions of doctors for performing illegal abortions. About 40,000 abortions take place in Israel every year, about half of them legal.
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. 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.
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.
Structure of the committee
The termination committee consists of three members, at least one of which is a woman. Of the three members, two must be licenced physicians, one an expert on obstetrics and gynaecology, and the other one either OB/GYN, internal medicine, psychiatry, family medicine or public health. The third member of the committee must be a social worker.
The committee tends to be liberal in its approval of abortions: 98 percent of requests are approved.
Judaism on abortion
The Mishnah reference in Oholot 7, 7 has been open to debate. Although the verse does not refer directly to abortion, it does refer to a case of life-threatening childbirth and, if the birth is partial or the head has not yet emerged, the fetus can be killed to save the life of the woman (see pikuach nefesh).
Maimonides codified in the Mishneh Torah that the definition of murder according to the Noahide Laws includes a person who kills "even one unborn in the womb of its mother," and adds that such a person is liable for the death penalty. The killing of an embryo is also recognized as murder in the Talmud Sanhedrin 57b: "A heathen is executed..for the murder of an embryo..Because it is written, Whoso sheddeth the blood of man within [another] man, shall his blood be shed. What is a man within another man? An embryo in his mother's womb." Another explicit reference to abortion is in the Zohar, where it is likewise forbidden.
In regard to life-risking pregnancies, Jewish scholar Rashi said that a fetus is not a viable soul until it's been born, and killing it to save the woman is permitted. Maimonides supported the ruling using din rodef (Hebrew: דין רודף), thus likening an endangering pregnancy to the fetus killing the woman.
The question of the fetus's viability is addressed in two sources in the Talmud: in Yevamot 69, 2 the fetus in the first forty days of pregnancy is likened to water, "עד ארבעים יום מיא בעלמא"; in Nida 8, 2 the fetus is recognized from the second trimester, three months into the pregnancy, "וכמה הכרת עובר ... שלשה חדשים".
Jewish law permits abortion in order to save the life of the mother. Various Jewish scholars have expressed additional lenient stances on abortions under specific circumstances. These include contemporary scholar Eliezer Waldenberg, who argued in favor of abortions in cases of serious birth defects or extreme mental or psychological danger to the woman.
Abortion debate in Israel
The abortion debate in Israel exists, although it is marginalized by more publicized 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 and democratic country.
Liberal political parties such as Meretz and Shinui argue in favor of legalized abortion for reasons of personal liberty. Women's organizations such as Naamat and Shdulat HaNashim (women's lobby) argue in favor for feminist, pro-choice reasons, such as reproductive rights.
Jewish Orthodox organizations, including political parties, argue against abortion as opposed to the Halakhah and therefore not acceptable in a Jewish country. Political parties include Shas, a Sephardic Haredi party, United Torah Judaism, an Ashkenazi Haredi party, and the National Religious Party, a zionist Orthodox 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.
Efrat 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 is a pro-life nonprofit association.
A third organization which provides financial support and counseling to women who consider undergoing an abortion is Just One Life (J.O.L.)  - which in Hebrew is known as Nefesh Achat B'Yisrael.
- Israeli penal code at the Hebrew Wikisource.
- (Hebrew) Central Bureau of Statistics. (August 30, 2005). Patterns of Fertility in Israel in 2004 DOC. Retrieved February 12, 2007.
- (Hebrew) Ruti, Sinai. (June 8, 2004). "Proposal: Women in poor financial condition will be able to get an abortion." Walla!. Retrieved February 3, 2007.
- Debra Kamin (January 6, 2014). "Israel’s abortion law now among world’s most liberal". The Times of Israel.
- Naamat official site
- (Hebrew) IWN official site, legal pregnancy termination in Israel
- Remennick, Larissa I., & Hetsron, Amir. (2001). Public Attitudes toward Abortion in Israel: A Research Note. Social Science Quarterly, 82 (2), 420–431. Retrieved February 12, 2007.
- Efrat official site
- Bead Chaim Official site
- Just One Life - Official site