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The Health Ministry said on Tuesday that it will expand the number of clinics that perform early abortions. The ministry also jacked up the price of abortions for single women, married women impregnated by men other than their husbands and women over the age of 40.

The ministry's decision came in response to a High Court of Justice ruling on a petition submitted by Nor Med, which runs the private Ramat Aviv Medical Center. The company went to court after the ministry refused to license the clinic to perform additional surgical procedures, including mastectomies, breast reconstructions, gall bladder and prostate surgeries, pelvic floor rehabilitation and gynecological procedures - including abortions.

The court rejected Nor Med's petition, stating that responsibility for preserving the nation's health rests with the ministry, and its decision was not so unreasonable as to warrant the court's intervention.

Nevertheless, the justices criticized the ministry's policy on granting licenses to perform abortions to health clinics.

Abortions are subject to the approval of pregnancy termination committees that operate in all Israeli hospitals and three clinics - the Assuta Medical Center in Ashkelon, the Medili clinic in Rehovot and Medica Brenner clinic in Be'er Sheva. These clinics were given special dispensation to perform abortions due to the lack of adequate hospital service in those areas.

In response to the High Court petition, the ministry said there was no justification for providing an abortion license to the Ramat Aviv center, which is located in Tel Aviv, since nearby Ichilov Hospital was capable of serving all women seeking to undergo the procedure.

But the justices noted that there were also state-run hospitals in all three cities where private clinics were permitted to perform abortions - Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot and Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

"An appropriate general policy on these matters requires transparency, and providing opportunities for anyone who so requests to be heard," the ruling stated.

These criticisms persuaded the ministry to relax its restrictions on providing abortion licenses to clinics. Health officials are also looking into granting permits to perform amniocentesis to medical facilities other than hospitals.

"Permission to perform abortions outside a hospital had been granted to three clinics in cities that have just one hospital," the Health Ministry said in a statement. "Termination of pregnancy in these clinics is limited to the first 12 weeks after fertilization, either via pill or surgery.

"Following discussions held by the ministry, it was decided to allow more clinics to perform pregnancy terminations until the 12th week. Among the additional conditions these clinics will be required to fulfill is [obtaining] an agreement for back-up from a nearby hospital, within a 15-minute drive, in the event that [hospitalization] is needed. Based on the applications that were submitted to our ministry, a recommendation [to license] other clinics will be issued soon, once it is determined that they meet the necessary criteria."

The ministry also increased prices for abortions performed on single women, as well as married women pregnant due to an extramarital affair. These women will now have to pay NIS 2,256, a 61 percent increase from the previous rate of NIS 1,401.

In cases of rape, incest and pregnancies for women under 19 years of age, abortions are funded by the state.