Ultra-orthodox Israeli Hospital Agrees to IVF for Unmarried Women

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The only hospital in the city of Netanya has agreed to let unmarried women undergo in vitro fertilization treatments, under a compromise proposed by the attorney general in response to a class action against the institution.

Under the agreement, Sanz Medical Center–Laniado Hospital will require the woman and her male partner to sign a form acknowledging the man’s paternity of any child resulting from the treatment. It contains no provisions for women who are not in a relationship with a male partner who is willing to claim paternity.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit devised the compromise together with the hospital, the Health Ministry and various jurists. He became involved after a district court approved a 60 million shekel ($17 million) class action against Laniado for discriminating against women.

The suit was filed by a woman who sought IVF treatment at Laniado and was refused because she was unmarried. The hospital said this wasn’t discriminatory, but was dictated by Jewish law, and complying with Jewish law is an essential part of its character as an ultra-Orthodox institution.

The religious principle at stake is the need to avoid prohibited sexual relationships. This necessitates registering the child’s biological father as such in the Population Registry, the hospital said, because otherwise, the child won’t be able to find out who his father is and might unwittingly become involved in a religiously forbidden relationship with a paternal relative, such as a half-sibling, in the future. Therefore, it refuses to do IVF treatments for a single woman.

The hospital consequently sought to appeal the district court’s decision to the Supreme Court, which asked Mendelblit for his opinion. Mendelblit held several meetings on the subject, at the end of which Laniado agreed to change its policy.

In a submission to the district court, Mendelblit said the new arrangement addresses both the hospital’s concerns and the problem of discrimination, and therefore makes the suit moot.

But the plaintiff’s lawyers, Adi Niv-Yagoda and Hagai Kalai, said their client doesn’t intend to withdraw her suit.

The attorney general’s brief makes it clear that Laniado has been practicing illegal discrimination for years, which is a significant achievement in and of itself, they said in a statement.

Nevertheless, Mendelblit’s plan “provides only a partial solution, and it would perpetuate a discriminatory, offensive policy toward women who need to use donated sperm,” they added. “It’s also surprising that the attorney general thinks there’s no need to compensate the victims of this discrimination for the harm done.”

IVF treatment at an Israeli hospitalCredit: Moti Milrod

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