The Health Ministry had no choice. After it turned down the Ramat Aviv Medical Center's request for a license to carry out additional surgical procedures, including abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy, the center petitioned the High Court of Justice. The court rejected the petition, but criticized the ministry's policy on licensing clinics to perform abortions.
Consequently, the ministry decided to expand the number of clinics licensed to perform early abortions, subject to the approval of pregnancy-termination committees. At the same time, it decided to raise the price of an abortion 61 percent, from NIS 1,400 to NIS 2,256, for single women, women over 40 and married women pregnant by someone other than their husband.
The ministry maintains the price was jacked up in accordance with the law on price-controlled products and services. But it is hard not to suspect that the decision was a political one.
In contrast to the many Western states where conservative religious groups have managed to impose a sweeping ban on legal abortions, Israel has maintained a reasonable status quo on this matter. Granted, the ultra-Orthodox parties upset the balance by securing the repeal of a section of the law that permitted abortion for economic reasons, while private ultra-Orthodox organizations, headed by the Efrat group, use steamroller persuasion tactics (including financial help for women in distress ) to persuade Jewish women not to abort. Despite this, some 99 percent of abortion requests are approved.
Now it seems Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is trying to create facts on the ground by making it harder for women who need an abortion to get one. Litzman is apparently seeking to reduce the number of abortions in the Jewish population (77 percent of the women who perform abortions each year are Jewish ). But in so doing, he is hurting the weakest - in both economic and social terms - of the women who need this service. The blow is all the harder because many contraceptives are not covered by the state-subsidized health insurance program.
The Health Ministry's public health specialists should explain to the deputy minister that this price hike is neither legitimate nor effective. Women who cannot perform an abortion legally do not give up, but rather turn to illegal abortion clinics, at the risk of their lives. In view of this reality, the ministry would do well to reconsider its decision.
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