Mother and baby
Mother and baby Israel news photo: Flash 90

The death of Raz Atias, 18, following a suicide pact between him and his pregnant girlfriend, has given rise to a rare public debate on the subject of abortion in Israel, although the debate is rather one-sided.

An anti-abortion group, Efrat, is bearing the brunt of the attacks, because its volunteers, or women who identify with its message, allegedly encouraged the pregnant girl not to have an abortion, when she was in hospital with stomach pains.

At the same time, Atias and the girlfriend, who is identified only by the initial Z, were pressured by Atias's parents to have an abortion performed. 

The distress and pressure they were under apparently led them both to decide to commit suicide together. They drove out to a forest near Jerusalem with a handgun after sending a suicide message to Channel 2 television. Police came after them, using their cell phones to track them. The tragedy ended with police volunteers shooting Atias dead, after he fired at them.

The Israeli press and militant feminist organizations seized upon a statement by Atias's mother, Riki, according to which activists from Efrat shared a hospital room with the pregnant girlfriend and convinced her not to have an abortion. In the television interview with Riki Atias immediately after her son's death, Efrat was depicted as being to blame for the tragedy. In another interview quoted by leftist Haaretz, she said that "three ''pregnancy keepers' from Efrat sat there with her and told her 'do not abort, we will support you.'"

The volunteers read Psalms with the girl, Atias said.

Z's sister also attacked Efrat. "It is important to me to say that we are very angry at this organization," the sister told Yisrael Hayom. "I think that is the main thing that caused the couple to do what they did." She accused the group of "coming up to kids without their parents' approval and brainwashing them… We will let the public know what happened so that every girl knows that it is better for her to consult with her parents and not hide things and do things that cause tragedies in the family."

In an article published on Maariv's website, a militant feminist named Or Sofer accuses Efrat's chairman, Dr. Eliyahu Shossheim, of dissembling when he said that the organization was, in fact, feminist, in that it supported women's right to choose whether to have an abortion or not. She defined Efrat as a "familist" group, using a term that Rav Yaakov Ariel and others in the Israeli pro-family movement use to describe themselves.

Militant feminist MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) accused Efrat of "taking upon itself the role of G-d."

"The hospital and the Ministry of Health allowed the girl to fall prey to missionary elements. Volunteers in the organization must wear identification badges so that the girl knows who is talking to her and what his interests are."

Efrat denies that the women who spoke to Z were its volunteers and says Z's name does not appear in its books. Ruth Tidhar, who is Efrat's therapeutic director, told Channel 2's website that the women who spoke to Z were probably women who had received counseling from Efrat in the past. About 54,000 women have been counseled by the group, she explained, and "they serve as our ambassadors."

Questioned about a video on Efrat's website that cautions women against hastily ending a pregnancy, Tidhar explained: "The point of the film is for the girl to understand that this is a serious matter. Pregnancy is something that is easy to enter and hard to exit… With all the voices around her telling her to have an abortion, it is important that there be one strong and clear voice telling her, 'wait a minute, this is a serious matter. Think about it, don't act out of pressure…"

Tidhar adds: "If the law lets her have an abortion without consulting her parents, then it certainly allows her to be a mother against her parents' wishes, and we give her the full support." 

Israeli law requires health providers to fund abortions for young women up to the age of 19 regardless of medical considerations, without informing their parents. According to the Channel 2 website, about 1 out of 10 abortions approved in Israel are by girls under 17.