Ultrasound image
Ultrasound imageNati Shohat /Flash90

Pregnancy termination committees have been operating for decades in Israel, with the stated aim of reducing the number of abortions conducted in the country. According to a new report by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Wednesday, however, current Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz of the far-left Meretz party wants to introduce new reforms into Israel’s abortion policy, claiming that women should not have any obstacles placed in their way when choosing to end the lives of their unborn children.

If Horowitz succeeds in advancing his reforms, the language of the form that a woman fills out when applying for permission to have an abortion performed will change, with fewer and simpler questions to answer. In addition, legislation will be passed enabling any woman up to the 12th week of pregnancy to have an abortion performed, without having to appear before a termination committee, as the law currently demands.

According to the report, the Health Ministry also wants to transfer a significant amount of responsibility for the process to the country’s health clinics.

“It should be obvious that a woman has the right to choose with regard to her own body – she, and no one else,” Horowitz said. “All decisions and medical procedures such as the choice of a mother to have an abortion, must be in the hands of the woman alone. We do not have the moral right to decide for her how to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy.

“As things stand today,” he continued, “women are forced to go through a degrading process and provide reasons why they want to terminate their unwanted pregnancies – this is absolutely ridiculous. These procedures are totally out-of-date.”

In fact, it is already extremely easy for a woman to obtain permission to have an abortion performed in Israel; statistics show that 99.3 percent of all requests are approved. According to the law, termination committees are authorized to approve terminations in virtually every conceivable case, including the flexible category of “if continuation of the pregnancy is liable to … cause the mother emotional harm.” This applies to requests made before the 24th week of pregnancy; in practise, most requests are made earlier. Requests made later than the 24th week are referred to a special committee.

Furthermore, the majority of abortions are publicly funded, costing millions of dollars per year. All women up to the age of 33 are eligible for a publicly-funded abortion, as are women whose pregnancies are the result of illegal relations, women whose children could be born with a physical or cognitive defect, or women who are judged at risk of suffering physical or emotional danger if their pregnancies are continued. Abortions performed for medical reasons are also fully funded, as are all abortions for minors, which are funded directly by the Health Ministry. Abortions for IDF soldiers during their military service are funded by the IDF.

With regard to minors, the state funds abortions in all cases, regardless of any of the abovementioned criteria, and the minor can request and receive approval for an abortion without informing her parents. According to media reports, around 10 percent of abortions approved in Israel are for girls under the age of 17.

In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, 17,688 women applied for an abortion and only 106 had their applications turned down. In 2018, the IDF performed 1000 abortions, costing the state NIS 5 million.