A very lively baby
A very lively babyIsrael news photo: file
The Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women began discussing a letter issued from the Chief Rabbinate's office to the rabbis of Israel's cities, asking them to work to decrease the number of abortions conducted in Israel.

Chief Rabbi of Be'er Sheva and member of the Chief Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Yehuda Deri, raised the ire of Knesset members Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) Tuesday when he said, "There is nothing more important than encouraging births."  
"Our duty is to raise awareness about the abortion issue, women need to be informed," said Rabbi Deri, "many women do not know that the effect of abortion is murder." Rabbi Deri told the committee that the pamphlets and materials he spreads inform readers that "Jewish law equates abortion with murder," as the abortion is performed on a fetus, which is considered a living person.

Politics of abortion

Zuaretz replied with outrage that city rabbis who receive their salaries from the government are trying to frighten women into not performing abortions, and that a committee formed to prevent abortions and wrest away from women the ability to make decisions about their own bodies has no place in democratic society.

Associate Chairman of the Israeli pro-life organization Efrat, Dr. Eli Schussheim, responded that issues of pregnancy and abortion should be examined outside the political context, and viewed as a purely medical issue. "A woman has rights over her body," Schussheim said. "But according to the law, she is entitled to make an educated decision.  She must be given medical information and assistance."

Schussheim enthused that not one woman he has encountered who decided not to abort her child ever regretted it, and said some have become volunteers for his organization.

Support for mothers

Over the past 30 years, Efrat has dissuaded 25,000 women from having abortions.  By providing encouragement, social support, monthly food and baby supply packages as well as essential baby gear to women who feel overwhelmed by the idea of supporting a baby, Efrat helps women who would otherwise abort their babies to summon the courage to go through with the pregnancy. The organization also claims that women often are not made aware of the negative psychological effects abortion may have on them before making their decision.

Rabbi Menachem Burshtein of the Puah Institute was also present at the discussion. Started in 1990, the organization is named after a biblical midwife who secretly delivered Jewish children against the orders of the Egyptian pharaoh.  It provides free fertility counseling, medical services, advice and expert oversight of fertility treatments so they can be carried out in accordance with Jewish law. The institute receives approximately 180 calls a day for assistance and guidance through the process of fertility treatment as it pertains to religious Jews. 

20,000 abortions a year

According to Israeli estimates there are about twenty thousand legal abortions performed each year, not considering the number of illegal abortions also performed.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Israel ranked first in the rate of fertility treatments in an international study conducted by Canada's McMaster University in 2002. The 48 countries included in the study averaged 289 fertility treatments per million residents. Israel registered almost 6 times the international average, with second-place Iceland performing just over half the number of annual treatments as Israel.

In 2007, about 3.7 percent of all deliveries resulted from fertility treatments.