Adding Cleric to Israeli Abortion Panels Won't Pass, Lawmakers Say

Both the coalition and opposition have said that if such a bill were put forward, it would be blocked before it could be brought to a vote.

Israeli abortion panels, illustration.
Sharona Gonen

At a meeting of the Knesset panel Monday, one speaker after the other shot down a proposal to have a religious figure, rabbi or qadi, added to the committees tasked with approving the termination of a pregnancy.

The session was held at the request of MKs Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (Joint List) and Yehuda Glick (Likud) who sought to “float the issue” in the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, but none of the other members on the panel offered any backing.

Both the coalition and opposition have said that if such a bill were put forward, it would be blocked before it could be brought to a vote.

Committee chair MK Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List) firmly rejected the possibility that the move would be allowed to advance. “I wouldn’t want a decision that rests largely on professional judgments to be guided by clergy I believe that only the woman has the right to decide what she does with her body. The time has come to remove our womb from the nationalist, religious or patriarchal struggle.

“Unfortunately, this house has not yet reached the stage where it will give women the option to control their own bodies. In the past year this house has shifted in a totally different direction and we must be alert to this. The committee on terminating a pregnancy is the end of the road, after the woman has finished consulting with whomever she wishes to consult with,” she said.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon said at the session: “The argument isn’t just about whether there should be a rabbi or qadi on the committee, but about a woman’s rights over her own body. We have to say that the law has given the state a monopoly to police the woman’s body. I am a secular person, but I respect that some women need to consult with a rabbi or qadi. Every woman who wishes to should be able to do this before bringing her case to the committee.”

The Knesset committee was also shown data that contradicted Hajj Yahya’s initial assertion that an increasing number of Muslim women were applying to terminate pregnancies. The data showed no change in this number over the past decade: In 2014, about 3,000 Muslim women made applications to the committee and 90 percent of the requests from women of all religions were approved. Among Jewish and other non-Muslim women, there has been a modest decline in the number of those seeking abortions. In 2014, the figure was 15,000.

Ran Melamed of the Yedid-Association for Community Empowerment NGO says the number of illegal abortions performed in Israel is similar to the number that are performed with committee approval.

Glick said the discussion is important because it can lead to a reexamination of the role of the pregnancy termination committees, about which the Health Ministry has not published any reports since 1991. “Today, about 99 percent of those who apply to the committees are given approval. What do you need a committee for if it says yes to everyone? In many instances, the committees are also circumvented altogether.

“On this issue, there is a clash of values. On the one hand, you have a woman’s freedom to do what she wants with her body. And opposite that, there’s the value of life. There’s a lot of disinformation about the positions of Judaism and Islam on abortion. In Islam, up to the 120th day of pregnancy, abortion is permitted. And in halakha [Jewish law] the time period is about the same. So if the woman’s health is in danger, or there is the risk of a severe birth defect, it can be permitted.

“It’s very possible that there are women who don’t abort because they think there is a total religious prohibition and there’s no one to tell them otherwise. On the other hand, there are women who have an abortion when there’s no one who offers them another way to solve the problem, if it’s a social problem. In the Jewish community, there’s the Efrat organization that provides information on the subject. I don’t know if there’s something similar in the Muslim community.”