The abortion rate in Israel decreased by 10 percent between 2000 and 2008, and the number of abortions carried out during the last two months of pregnancy dropped from 46 in 2007 to 34 in 2008, according to a Health Ministry report released today.
The spike in the number of such abortions in 2007 led the ministry to tighten its restrictions on late-term abortions, requiring women to show that the fetus would have at least a 30-percent chance of having a physical or mental deformity if the pregnancy was not terminated.
Israel requires all women seeking abortions to get approval from hospital abortion panels, which approved 98 percent of all requests in 2008, consistent with the approval rate seen in previous years. Last year, 19,594 abortions were carried out in Israel.
Many Western countries have restrictions on late-term abortions, including more than 30 states in Australia and the United States. Even U.S. President Barack Obama, who supports the right to an abortion, said before being elected that a woman's mental distress should not qualify as a reason for late-term abortions. France and Denmark restrict abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy, and Sweden imposes restrictions after the 16th week.
Unlike in Israel, European countries generally require parental consent for minors to terminate pregnancies.
Some countries ban abortion completely, including Chile and El Salvador.
The reason given for more than half (54 percent) of the abortions approved in Israel in 2008 was attributed to pregnancy out of wedlock, adultery or incest. About one-fifth of abortions were approved due to concern for the physical or mental health of the mother; one-fifth due to possible harm to the fetus; and one-tenth due to the age of the mother (either younger than 17 or older than 40).
At 129 abortions for every 1,000 births, Israel has a low abortion rate compared with the European average of 247 abortions for every 1,000 births. Russia has the highest abortion rate, at 950 abortions per 1,000 births.
However, some say the reported abortion rate in Israel is significantly lower than the actual rate. Past estimates indicate that between 4,000 and 6,000 illegal abortions take place annually, most performed by gynecologists in private practice.
The women who undergo illegal abortions in Israel tend to be married women between 19 and 40 years old and tend to be early in the pregnancy, said Tal Tamir, an activist for the women's health group Women and Their Bodies.
"It's a well-known phenomenon, primarily among married women who aren't eligible for an approved abortion through the pregnancy-termination committees," she said. "We think every women has the right to her own body, so married women also should be able to choose whether to have an abortion."
Dr. Ilana Ziegler, executive director of the Israel Family Planning Association, said an earlier trend of teens undergoing illegal abortions has largely been halted.