Israel’s Pregnancy Termination Committees: A Duty of Care

As a country that prides itself on a pro-natal culture and which annually commemorates the deaths in the Holocaust of six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, Israel must purposefully guard against a casual attitude toward abortion.

Currently just under 20,000 legal abortions are conducted in Israel. It is estimated a further 20,000 are conducted illegally in private clinics.

Whatever our beliefs about the humanity of the fetus, abortion has to do with terminating life. If it must be done at all, it must be done with nothing less than utmost care not only in regards to the unborn, but with regard to the future emotional and physical state of the mother.

However, there is a grave concern that legal abortions are possibly being carried out without due regard to Israeli law and without due care toward the pregnant women concerned.

Almost all requests for abortion made to the committees, over 98% of them, are granted. This almost total approval rate may indicate the committee process is being run as a rubber stamp — a mere formality.

Indeed, (in a Times of Israel blog), the Israel Director of the National Council of Jewish Women, Shari Eshret is quoted: “The committee process has become a rubber stamp for 99% of the women who appear before it.”

However, Israel’s law reflects that abortion is a decision of great magnitude that should not be made lightly, or even alone.

Under Israeli legislation, a woman who wants to legally terminate her pregnancy must obtain approval to do so from a Committee for Termination of Pregnancy made up of a social worker and two doctors.

The Penal Law 1977 stipulates the committees may, after obtaining the woman’s informed consent, grant approval for abortion if they feel it is justified in the following circumstances:

1. The woman is below marriage age or above age 40; 2. The pregnancy is the result of relations prohibited by criminal law, or of incestuous relations, or of extramarital relations; 3. The child is likely to have a physical or mental defect; 4. Continuing the pregnancy is likely to endanger the woman’s life or to cause her physical or mental harm.

The committees have a duty to provide an important and sensitive service to women, their unborn children and to Israeli society. Under the Patients Act 1996 they are required to provide “medical information to a reasonable extent such as to enable the patient to decide whether to agree to the treatment proposed.”

In the case of abortion this has to mean giving women an understanding of the size and development of the fetus (under “diagnosis of the patient’s medical condition and its prognosis;” clause 13.1).

It also means a description of what will be done to the fetus (under “description of the treatment”; clause 13.2).

It must also mean clear understanding of alternatives to abortion such as available help before and after the pregnancy, and the possibility of adoption (under “the likelihood of success and the risks of alternative forms of treatment, and of non-treatment; clause 13.4).

What is especially worrying about the approval rate is that women may be having abortions without knowing what exactly they are choosing, what the procedure is, or what the alternatives are.

One young Israeli woman who became pregnant while serving in the IDF told the writer in 2015:

“Very quickly I was taken to the committee for termination of pregnancy. There was a social worker and a doctor and they did not tell me anything about the abortion process. The abortion was scheduled two days later at the Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv. It happened so fast I had no time to decide to what I wanted to do. The doctor only explained to me I was having surgery when I was on the treatment table in the operating room. After the abortion my mental condition deteriorated and I ran away from the army.”

In 2013, out of 19,153 applications and 18,730 approvals, the reason given for nearly half the abortions was out of wedlock pregnancy (8,646).

Israel’s Pro-Life Association Be’ad Chaim has reported: “Financial restraints, which may ‘endanger the woman’s mental health’ have constituted a reason for social workers to recommend abortion for most of our single/married clients.”
Concerning financial restraints, Ruth Tidhar, Chief Social Worker with Efrat, (an Israeli charity that assists women to keep their babies), told the writer in 2015: “We offer not only emotional support to the mother and family but can also provide many material things a baby needs in the first year of life. One of our mottos is: Lack of money is no reason to end a life.”

A further indication that the process may be in trouble relates to abortions conducted on the grounds of likely mental or physical defects.

Be’ad Chaim informs: “Regarding the health of the fetus (baby), Israel is number one in the world for doing prenatal testing and abortion is often recommended when there is any suspicion of a problem with the baby. Abortion will be recommended for any reason including missing fingers, club foot, etc”

The basic values of Israel’s legal system are set out within the Basic Laws of Israel. The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty provides that “Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life …”

Because abortion is a matter of life and death, it may be time for a government review of this committee process. In this way it can be ascertained whether or not abortions are being approved with the proper care or whether changes need to be made.

The purpose of the pregnancy termination committees should be, in accordance with the Basic Laws of Israel, to further the recognition of the value of the human being and the sanctity of human life.

That is a high calling that carries great responsibility and which must be taken very seriously indeed.

About the Author
Karen Faulkner is a Jewish Israeli citizen who was raised in Italy and England. Her background is in law both academically (Graduate Diploma in Law (UK) and professionally (caseworker in a London law firm specializing in criminal defense). Since making Aliyah in 2006, Karen has worked as a freelance writer and editor. In 2015-2016 she undertook a Master's degree in Human Rights and Transitional Justice at Hebrew University. She graduated in October 2016.
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