Israel and the US: Simultaneous battles over abortion

It was You who created my conscience; You fashioned me in my mother's womb.




(the israel bible)

December 5, 2021

3 min read

While the Supreme Court of the US is reconsidering controversial precedents that opened the door to widespread abortions, a far-left member of Bennett’s coalition is using his new position to push forward legislation that would make abortions more readily accessible in Israel. 

Left-wing Health Minister pushing to make abortion easy

Nitzan Horowitz is the head of the extreme left-wing Meretz Party. As part of his coalition agreement, he is in  Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s cabinet as the Minister of Health. As the head of Meretz, Horowitz is advocating for reforms that will make abortions more readily available in Israel. His reforms will focus on transferring responsibility for some abortions, particularly drug-induced procedures performed in the first term, to health clinics rather than hospitals. The reforms submitted to the Knesset by his party will also call for changing the requirement that mandates all abortions carried out before the 24th week of pregnancy be approved by a committee. The new legislation being submitted by Meretz calls for the mother to meet an abortion committee only in cases where the abortion will be carried out after the 12th week of pregnancy. The new laws call for the committee to act only as an advisory body and not to grant approval. 

“It should be taken for granted – the right to a woman’s body belongs to the woman alone,” said Horowitz. “Every decision, or medical procedure, such as the choice of whether to have an abortion, must be in the hands of the woman.

“We have no moral right to decide for her how to act with an unwanted pregnancy. The situation today is that women are forced to undergo degrading interviews. It’s delusional.”

The new legislation is expected to meet stiff opposition from the religious parties and the Arab parties. 

U Supreme Court: Reconsidering Roe V. Wade

The Israeli legislation comes while the US is also embroiled in a fierce battle over abortion. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court considered a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If successful, the Mississippi challenge would remove the blanket federal mandate that requires states to have legalized abortion and make abortion the decision of each state. 

Mississippi is asking for the Supreme Court to reconsider two landmark cases regarding abortion: 

In 1973, the SCOTUS ruled in Roe v Wade that women in the US have a right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy and limited rights in the second trimester.

In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v Casey, the court ruled that states could not place an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions before a fetus could survive outside the womb, at about 24 weeks.

If the SCOTUS rules in favor of state rights, about 20 states are expected to introduce their own bans which would include outright bans after 15 weeks. In more than half of US states, abortion access would probably remain the same. In 15 states and the District of Columbia, state law guarantees the right to an abortion even if Roe v Wade is overturned.

Israel: History of legal abortion

Abortion was officially legalized in Israel in 1977. In order to carry out an abortion in Israel, approval must be given by a pregnancy termination committee that has been given said authority. Approval is granted in the following cases:

  • if the woman is younger than 18 or older than 40
  • If the woman is not married or the pregnancy is not from the marriage
  • If the pregnancy is the result of relations which are illegal according to criminal law, or are incestuous.
  • If the child is liable to be born with a physical or mental birth defect
  • If continuation of the pregnancy is liable to endanger the life of the mother or cause her physical or emotional harm

The committee may only make decisions regarding requests where the pregnancy is less than 24 full weeks according to an ultrasound confirming the stage of the pregnancy. When the pregnancy is passed 24 weeks it is passed on to a special committee. Abortions are carried out exclusively in hospitals. The vast majority of requests are granted and abortions are state-subsidized.

The Israel Defense Services performed 1,000 abortions in 2018 for female soldiers, costing the state $1.6 million.

About 20,000 abortions take place in Israel every year, with the figure remaining steady, despite a substantial increase in the population. According to government data, in Israel, abortion rates in 2016 dropped steadily to 9 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, lower than England (16.2) and the United States (13.2). 99% of abortions are carried out in the first trimester. The rate of abortion in Israel has, in fact, been declining since 1988, when there were 18.6 requests per 1,000 females.

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