By Jonathon Van Maren
Since 1977, abortion has been legal in the State of Israel under a set of supposedly strict conditions, and each abortion must be approved by a ghoulishly-named “termination committee.” According to the guidelines, an abortion can be procured if the woman is younger than the legal marriage age (which is 18 at present), or older than age 40; if the baby is conceived through rape, incest, or outside of marriage; if the baby has a birth defect; or if the committee decides that the woman’s life or health is at risk.
Although these guidelines were intended to restrict abortion, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics noted that 99.3 percent of abortion requests were granted, with a miniscule 0.7 percent being rejected. Abortion on demand is technically illegal, but in practice these “termination committees” simply rubber stamp nearly every single abortion, regardless of the circumstances. As is so often the case, the category of “women’s health” is used as a loophole to ensure that abortion on demand is the reality even if it is not the rule. Women serving in the IDF get their abortions paid for by the Israeli government.
Despite this sad state of affairs, there has been good news recently. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported this year that the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion has continued to fall, with the abortion rate declining to less than half of what it was thirty years ago. The number of requests for abortion procedures is declining as well, and the CBS has indicated that this is consistent with a now 30-year trend for the State of Israel.
In 1988, for example, 18.6 out of every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 requested an abortion—but in 2015, only 9.4 out of every 1,000 women in that same age category requested abortions, resulting in approximately 18,400 abortions being committed (of 18,510 requests.) The decline continued in 2016, with the abortion rate falling to 9 abortions per 1,000 women. Druze and Muslim women had the fewest number of abortions, with 6 per 1,000 women and 7.1 per 1,000 women respectively.
Jewish women had a higher rate, with 9.4 per 1,000 women requesting abortions, with statistics for Christian Arab women sitting at 9.8 per 1,000. Non-Arab Christian women had the highest rate of abortion—12.7 per 1,000—while women with no declared religion were at 11.3 per 1,000. By every available standard, from the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion to the number of abortions requested, the abortion rate has been steadily dropping in Israel for 30 years.
While Orthodox Jews in Israel largely oppose abortion, left-wing political parties such as Meretz support abortion on demand, and attempts were made as recently as 2006 to get rid of the termination committees entirely and simply permit abortion as a noncontroversial surgical procedure. Fortunately, this attempt was soundly beaten by a large majority of other lawmakers, although a number of feminist groups in Israel are still pushing to have abortion recognized as a “reproductive right.”
The pro-life movement in Israel certainly deserves some credit for the decades-long decline of the abortion rate. Be’ad Chaim, a Christian pro-life group, offers counseling, education, post-abortive support groups, supplies for mothers in need, and sponsorship programs like “Project Moses,” which allows people to sponsor women for a full year after their babies are born to ensure that all of their needs are met. Efrat also provides women with both prenatal and postnatal help, as well as working to educate the public on the dangers of abortion. And Just One Life has provided crisis pregnancy services in Jerusalem for decades, and has seen 17,000 babies born as the result of their services.