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      Feature: Restoring the Right to Choose Life

      “Our organization is pro-choice in the truest sense,” says Ruti Tidhar. “Many women see abortion as their only choice due to financial woes."
      By Ezra HaLevi
      First Publish: 10/3/2006, 8:25 AM / Last Update: 9/20/2006, 11:14 AM

      “Our organization is pro-choice in the truest sense,” says Ruti Tidhar. “Many women see abortion as their only choice due to financial woes. We restore their ability to choose to have their baby.”

      Tidhar, a social worker, heads the team of 2,300 volunteers who are the lifeblood of Efrat, an organization offering assistance and support to Jewish women considering aborting their pregnancy.

      “When people hear about an organization that empowers people to decide not to have abortions, they think of protestors waving pictures of baby parts and waging legal battles - but you won’t find any of that here,” says Tidhar, Efrat's Deputy Director. “That is not what we are about.”

      Ruti Tidhar, MSW, oversees the volunteers working for Efrat and meets with women in her capacity as a social worker.

      Efrat was established in 1977, by Dr. Eli Schussheim, an Argentinian immigrant who served as senior surgeon in Jerusalem’s Shaarei Tzedek Hospital during the Six Day War.

      Dr. Schussheim had always been disturbed by the high rate of abortions in Israel and the policies that accompanied them. Female IDF soldiers, for example, are informed that they are entitled to three free abortions during the course of their military service, and Israel remains the only Western country with no cut-off point for late-term abortions.

      “Theoretically, a woman can have the fetus aborted while she is already in labor here,” Tidhar laments. Though such a case has never occurred, late-term abortions are extremely common in the Jewish state.

      But it is not the unborn with which Tidhar is most concerned. “My patients are the women,” she says. “My job is to show them that there are other options. Often they are simply afraid of an unplanned pregnancy. They already have trouble making ends meet and see it as impossible to introduce a new child into the world. They fill out forms at a local hospital, a committee gives it a rubber stamp (95% of public hospital abortion requests are granted) and all the while she is not informed of the gravity and long-term ramifications of her decision.”

      When Tidhar is contacted by a woman wanting to know more about her options, she dispatches one of the group’s volunteers to meet with the patient – anywhere in the country. Based on their experience of meeting with many such women, volunteers report two underlying reasons abortion is pursued in most of the cases they deal with: One, the embryo is so small that they are able to disconnect emotionally. Two, financial pressures and anxiety – fear that they will not be able to provide properly for the child.

      “We let the woman know what her options are,” Tidhar explains. “We let her know that we truly will shoulder the financial burden. We give her back the empowerment of being able to make an actual decision on the matter."

      “The turning point is usually once she is willing to look inside and admit that even with all of the difficulties, she doesn’t really want to go through with it, but simply told herself she had no choice,” Tidhar says. “Once she is there, she makes the decision with her heart. And the heart is where we make all our truly important decisions.”

      Without government funding or support from the hospital and clinics (“Abortion is big business in Israel,” Tidhar says), Efrat must rely on word of mouth, modest advertising campaigns and private referrals from doctors, nurses or members of hospital committees to spread awareness of their services.

      “We have no idea what percentage of the women who request an abortion are informed that we even exist,” Tidhar says, but she is optimistic due to the increasing number of children born with Efrat’s assistance each consecutive year. The organization brought 2,000 children to childbirth this past year.

      In Israel, an average of 900 abortions take place every week, so Efrat’s volunteers and social workers say there is plenty more work to be done.

      Efrat’s Assistant Director Tzvi Binn says the organization relies on donations, half of which come from Israelis, and takes pride in its low overhead costs. Its American office is run out of a volunteer’s home, and its main office in Israel is staffed by young women performing their national service and is housed in a donated ground floor apartment.
      Assistant Director Tzvi Binn outside Efrat's office in Jerusalem's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood.

      Around the corner from Efrat’s office is the group’s warehouse, which doubles as a neighborhood bomb shelter. Mountains of diapers, baby wipes, formula, baby carriages, cribs and all the other goods waiting to be distributed lie in rows. Shipments are constantly going out to different parts of the country.
      Part of the baby kit sent to new mothers assisted by Efrat.
      A baby carriage and other supplies included in the kits sent to new mothers.
      Hundreds of packages with baby food, diapers and supplies wait to be shipped to women throughout the country.
      A poster above piles of diapers in Efrat's warehouse reads: "One does not end a life because of money."

      An initial package contains a crib, bassinet, stroller, baby bath and a baby kit that includes blankets, baby clothes, bottles and other items (pink for a girl and blue for a boy). Subsequent monthly packages contain diapers, formula and non-perishable foods. Local supermarkets are also paid directly to supply goods to new mothers.

      All the goods and equipment add up to $1,000 each – a figure oft-touted by Binn. “For just $1,000 one can truly save the life of a Jewish child,” he says.
      A copy of a check and letter sent by one of Efrat's donors - Jonathan Pollard.
      Baby wipes being placed in the boxes of supplies for shipping.

      The name "Efrat" is explained on the organization’s web site as having been that given to the prophetess Miriam, the sister of Moses, in Egypt, after she refused Pharaoh’s order to kill all Jewish males during childbirth. The Midrash relates that Pharaoh attempted to persuade her and the other midwives that being born into a life of poverty and bondage was of no value anyway. She refused, risking her life, and was given the name Efrat, which shares its Hebrew root with the first commandment in the Bible: to be fruitful and multiply (pru u'revu).

      The organization's founder says the road ahead is a long one, but that so far, it has been rewarding. “Since its inception, Efrat has saved the lives of over 17,000 Jewish children in Israel,” Dr. Schussheim says. "Not a single time has a mother told me she regretted having her child – not a single time.”
      Photos of Children born with the help of Efrat adorn the walls of the office.

      Click here to listen to an interview with Assistant Director Tzvi Binn on Israel National Radio. Click here for more information about Efrat.

      (Photos: Josh Shamsi, Arutz-7 Photojournalist)