For hundreds of years, most births took place at the home. Women gave birth with the help of midwives and other women of their community in the closest, most familiar and natural setting. The development of the modern state and modern health care changed this reality and today, most women give birth in hospitals. In Israel, this reality was formalized by the National Insurance Law of 1953, which provides birth grants to women only after hospital births.
Although the vast majority of births in Israel still take place in hospitals, 600-800 women each year choose to give birth at home. This personal choice comes with a financial sanction, which deters many women from home births and hurts those who choose do it anyway. Last week the Knesset voted in favor of my proposed legislation, which aims to change the discriminatory nature of the original 1953 law.
Historically, the law was based on the assumption that hospital births are safer both for mother and the child. However, recent studies have shown that low-risk births, carried out by certified midwives, do not pose a higher risk than hospital births. The Israeli assumption is not universally accepted and in other countries, like England and Holland, homebirths are allowed and even encouraged.
My proposal includes two key elements. First, an amendment to the 1953 law that will enable women who give birth at home to receive a birth grant. Second, a requirement to create national policy regarding home births. Until now, alternative births have not been protected by the strict supervision and regulation of the Ministry of Health. The amendment requires the Minister of Health, together with the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee to establish regulations for births taking place outside medical facilities.
The birth grant is awarded to cover the initial costs of childcare, which should not be affected by where the child was born. Women should be encouraged to decide for themselves where to give birth, considering health and comfort, and not cost. Women should have full rights over their bodies, specifically regarding pregnancy and birth. This is a very personal and delicate process.
One more point should be made. This legislation has a wide range of support from left to right, including Minister of Health, Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked (The Jewish Home). This wide range reflects the non-partisan character of the proposal and its potential to affect and empower women from many sectors of Israeli society.
International Women’s Day, which was celebrated recently, is an important reminder of the work that needs to be done to insure gender equality and the empowerment of women everywhere. Let us use that reminder to promote another aspect of justice for women and of their right to their bodies.
Israel has always pioneered in laws of maternity and later paternity leave and child support. We just made a significant step in completing the job.