Abortion in the US and abortion in Israel: a comparison

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




(the israel bible)

March 16, 2023

8 min read

While right-wing religious Israelis and right-wing religious evangelical Americans share a Bible which creates common ground on many social issues, the two groups have divergent concerns regarding the question of abortion. While prohibiting abortion on demand, Jewish law permits abortion in some cases that Pro-Life Christians oppose. And while the Supreme Court recently overturned Roe v. Wade in the US, creating a hotly debated political battleground in the US, abortion is legal in Israel and barely registers as a political issue. In Israel, reform efforts are less about access and more about concerns regarding the procedure required to access an abortion. 

Israelis having more children; fewer abortions

The issue of abortion should be understood in their respective cultural backdrops. While abortion is legal in Israel, Israeli women are having more children than their American counterparts where abortion may have more restrictions.

According to a study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel in 2019, women in Israel have on average 3.1 kids each during the course of their lifetime. This is comparable to the “baby boom” in the United States after the second world war. Today,  women in the US have on average 1.8  kids each during the course of their lifetime. Among the population of ultra-Orthodox women, the average fertility rate is somewhere in the area of seven children per family. But even the non-observant women of Israel average 2.2 kids per family, which is also higher than any other  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development-member European (OECD) country.

The study attributes this to two factors: policy factors that allow women to balance work and family life more easily, and the religious aspects of life in Israel. As a result, abortion rates have declined in Israel continuously since 1988.

While abortion rates had been declining during the same period in the US, that trend reversed recently as there were 8% more abortions in 2020 than in 2017. This was despite declining birthrates.



About 20,000 abortions take place in Israel every year. While this figure has remained steady fo the past 30 years, the population has increased substantially, meaning that the overall rate of abortion has decreased. The rate of abortion in Israel has, in fact, been declining since 1988, when there were 18.6 requests per 1,000 females.

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. Compared to other countries in the world, the rate of abortions per 100 live births is low in Israel (9.3), and reflects, among other things, the relatively high fertility rates in Israel. In comparison, the average in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development-member European countries was 18.3 in 2017.

In 2020, rates of applications to abortion committees for Muslim women (6.2 per 1,000 women) and Druze women (5.6) were lower than those of Jewish women (8.0) and Arab Christian women (7.6). The rates of non-Arab Christians and women without religious classification are the highest (10.1 and 8.9 respectively). Most applications (50%) are from married women, 40% are single women, 10% are divorced women and 0.3% are widows; 7% of applications are from girls under the age of 19.

United States

The Guttmacher Institute reported that in 2020, there were 930,160 abortions in the US, which is up from 862,320  in 2017. This represents an abortion rate of 14.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 years, and 20.6 abortions per 100 pregnancies ending in abortion or live birth. In 2017, Guttmacher reported that almost 25% of women will have had an abortion by age 45, with 4.6% of 20-year-olds and 19% of 30-year-olds having at least one.

In 2020, unmarried women accounted for 86% of all abortions. Women living with a partner to whom they are not married account for 25% of abortions but only about 10% of women in the population

In 2020, approximately 20% of U.S. pregnancies ended in abortion. But this varies according to the region and different states having widely divergent rates of abortion. In 2020, the highest percentage of pregnancies were aborted in the District of Columbia (52%), New York (35%), and New Jersey (34%). The lowest percentage of pregnancies were aborted in Wyoming (2%), South Dakota (1%), and Missouri (0.2%). 

Abortion rates tend to be higher among minority women in the US. In 2019, 38% of women who underwent abortions were black; 33% were non-Hispanic white; 21% were Hispanic. The Guttmacher report of 2014 found Protestants accounted for 30% of abortions while Catholics accounted for 24%.



A 1977 law ensures a low-cost, and in some cases free, legal abortion to any Israeli woman who fills one of four criteria:

  • She is under 18 or over 40.
  • She carries a fetus with a severe mental or physical defect (free).
  • She claims that the fetus results from forbidden relations such as rape or incest (free) or, in the case of a married woman, that the baby is not her husband’s (not free). Single women also fall under this clause, and they too must pay.
  • She shows that her physical or mental health would be harmed by continuing the pregnancy (free)

But the laws concerning abortion are the focus of political debate and are developing. As abortion is legal, most of the debate focuses on the process and committees that are part of the procedure of having an abortion approved. In 1980, a fifth criterion that allowed abortions for women living in economic hardship was abolished. In 2014, the Knesset passed a reform to the national health coverage law, guaranteeing free abortions to patients between the ages of 20 and 33, regardless of financial circumstances. In 2022 (coincidentally just a few days after the US Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe v. Wade), the Knesset Labor Welfare and Health Committee approved new regulations to make it easier for women to get an abortion, allowing drug-induced early-term abortions at HMO clinics rather than only at hospitals. Also, women seeking an abortion will no longer have to meet with a social worker or appear in person before the review committees.

A woman seeking an abortion must have it approved by a three-person committee composed of two physicians and a social worker (one of whom must be a woman). Almost all requests are approved. According to a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Health Ministry’s pregnancy termination committee received 16,591 requests to terminate pregnancies in 2021. 99.5% of the requests were approved.

A separate committee decides on abortions after the fetus is 24 weeks old though few hospitals perform such abortions.

Women choosing to have an abortion at a private clinic are not subject to a ruling by a committee. 

United States

From 1973 to 2022, Supreme Court rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), respectively, created and maintained federal protections for a pregnant woman’s right to get an abortion, ensuring that states could not ban abortion prior to the point at which a fetus may be deemed viable. However, Roe and Casey were overturned by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), and states may now impose any regulation on abortion, provided it satisfies rational basis review and does not otherwise conflict with federal law. 

32 states require an abortion to be performed by a licensed physician. 19 states require an abortion to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in the pregnancy, and 17 states require the involvement of a second physician after a specified point. 43 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy, with some exceptions provided. The allowable circumstances are generally when an abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health. 

The U.S. Congress has barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions, except when the woman’s life would be endangered by a full-term pregnancy or in cases of rape or incest. Nonetheless, 17 states use public funds to pay for abortions for some poor women. About 14% of all abortions in the United States are paid for with public funds with virtually all the funds coming from the state. 

36 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion. 27 states require one or both parents to consent to the procedure, while 9 require that one or both parents be notified.


Jewish Law

The traditional Jewish view of abortion does not fit conveniently into either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” camps in the abortion debate. Judaism neither bans abortion completely nor does it sanction indiscriminate abortion “on demand.”

Exodus 21 is the only place in the Torah that discusses the loss of a fetus. As such, its relevance to a discussion about abortion needs to be understood in its proper context.

When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25

Some rabbinic authorities question the relevance of this verse to abortion as it specifically deals with the penalty for inadvertently harming a pregnant woman but does not relate to the intentional killing of a baby in the womb.

The distinction is significant. The Noahide laws prohibit all nations from spilling blood. If abortion is classified as murder, the prohibition would be applied universally

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 79a) interprets this verse as meaning that if the woman miscarries but suffers no other injury, the person responsible must pay compensation for the loss of the unborn child, but suffers no other penalty. If, however, the woman dies, he is guilty of a much more serious offense

As a general rule, abortion in Judaism is permitted only if there is a direct threat to the life of the mother by carrying the fetus to term or through the act of childbirth. In such a circumstance, the fetus is technically considered a “pursuer” who is threatening the mother’s life, and so the fetus may be terminated in “self-defense.”. Despite the classification of the fetus as a pursuer, once the baby’s head or most of its body has been delivered, the baby’s life is considered equal to the mother’s, and we may not choose one life over another because it is considered as though they are both pursuing each other.

No rabbinic authority permits intentional abortion when the mother’s life is not in danger. Some rabbinic authorities attribute this to the prohibition against murder, while others prohibit optional abortion on the basis of the value of the potential human life of the fetus.

Abortion and Catholicism

The official teachings of the Catholic Church oppose all forms of abortion procedures whose direct purpose is to destroy an embryo or fetus since it holds that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. The Church does recognize as morally legitimate certain acts which indirectly result in the death of the fetus, as when the direct purpose is the removal of a cancerous womb. In addition to teaching that abortion is immoral, the Catholic Church also generally makes public statements and takes actions in opposition to its legality.

Apart from indicating in its canon law that automatic excommunication does not apply to women who abort because of grave fear or due to grave inconvenience, the Catholic Church, without making any such distinctions, assures the possibility of forgiveness for women who have had an abortion.

Surveys have shown that the views of Catholics is not entirely in line with the canon of the Church. More than half of U.S. Catholics (56%) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while roughly four-in-ten (42%) said it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the 2019 Pew Research Center survey

Christianity and abortion

There are a variety of positions taken by contemporary Christian denominations on the topic. In the twentieth century, the debate over the morality of abortion became one of several issues which divided and continue to divide Protestantism. Evangelicals have sought to sharply restrict the conditions under which abortion is legally available. At the other extreme, some Protestants support freedom of choice and assert that abortion should not only be legal but even morally acceptable in certain circumstances.

Protestant supporters of abortion rights include the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Lutheran Women’s Caucus. 

The American Baptist Churches USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America consider abortion permissible under certain restricted circumstances.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly oppose abortion. 

The conservative evangelical, Non-denominational, Independent Baptist and Pentecostal movements all hold that abortion (when there is no threat to the life of the mother) is a form of infanticide, but there is no consensus as to whether exceptions should be allowed when the mother’s life is in mortal danger, or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. 

The Black Protestant community is strongly pro-choice, with 56 percent supporting legal access to abortion in all or most cases while  35 percent hold abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. However, among Black evangelicals support for legal access to abortion drops to 51 percent and rises to 67 percent among non-evangelical Black Protestants.

If you wish to join the fight to save unborn children in Israel, click here.

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