Half of the Abortion Applicants in Israel Claim Pregnancy Is Out of Wedlock, Study Says

A study by the Central Bureau of Statistics found that half of the applicants for abortions in 2016 claimed their pregnancies were out of wedlock to avoid invasive examinations or providing medical records

FILE Photo: The medical staff at the maternity ward in HaEmek Medical Center, Afula, Israel.
Rami Chelouche

Half the women in Israel who applied to abortion committees in 2016 claimed they were not married to the man who impregnated them, the Central Bureau of Statistics said Tuesday.

Some nine percent of pregnancies in Israel are aborted intentionally. In 2016, 18,032 women applied to their local termination of pregnancy committee, as required to obtain approval for an abortion. Of these, 92.3 percent were approved.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

The central bureau’s figures allow an updated look at the sensitive process for women facing these committees, in a country that reveres childbirth to the point of deeming it necessary to intervene personally in women’s lives.

Pregnancy out of wedlock is the only one of four circumstances in which abortion can be approved without a physical examination. While it eliminates the need for invasive exams or having to provide medical records, it comes at the price of being tagged as unfaithful.

It’s difficult to prove, but one can cautiously presume that some of the 9,000 women who had abortions two years ago used the out-of-wedlock clause as a pragmatic way to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Facing an official board of strangers to declare you’ve been impregnated by someone other than your spouse is certainly an uncomfortable position to be in.

Among Jewish applicants, 53.9 percent use this clause, while among Muslims it is 27.8 percent. An additional 9.1 percent of all women use the age clause — women younger than 17 or over 40 can automatically qualify for an abortion.

“The rules and criteria have created a distorted reality that forces women to face an official committee and lie,” Dr. Adi Niv-Yagoda, an attorney specializing in medical law and health policy, said.

“The law provides for a draconian and unreasonable arrangement that creates the need to lie in order for a woman to have the right to autonomy over her own body.

“Given the rate of permits the committees give for ending pregnancies it’s clear that the committees for terminating pregnancies have become ‘committees of deceit” and that they deal a blow to women’s basic rights,” Niv-Yagoda said.

He said the use of the out-of-wedlock clause can have legal repercussions as well.

“If a woman declares her pregnancy is out of wedlock, in the future this can be used against her in divorce proceedings,” he said.

An additional 20.7 percent of applicants cite danger to their own health, while 20.5 percent point to a high risk of birth defects as their reasons for wanting to abort.

In recent decades there has been a decline in applications to the abortions approval committee. In 1988 there were 15 applicants per 100 pregnancies, and in 1998 there were 13 per 100.

By 2008 the figure dropped to 11 per 100 and today it stands at 9. The reasons for this the advances in prenatal examinations and the improved ability to intervene medically in instances where this was more difficult to do in the past.

Of women who sought abortions in 2016, 47.7 percent — were under 30, while 11.7 percent were at least 40 year old. 9.1 percent —1,632 applicants — were below the age of 19.

Of the total, 86 percent sought abortions during the first trimester. Some 30 percent of applicants had previously terminated a pregnancy.