Israeli Abortion Committees Are Cumbersome and Opaque, Says Watchdog

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'A woman seeking an abortion is often anxious and under stress, with some women dealing with it on their own.'
'A woman seeking an abortion is often anxious and under stress, with some women dealing with it on their own.'Credit: Matthew Busch, Bloomberg

The state comptroller has published his report dealing with committees that approve abortions, noting the presence of excessive bureaucracy, failure in collection and dissemination of information, lack of material in other languages and insufficient sex education in schools and the army.

“A woman seeking an abortion is often anxious and under stress, with some women dealing with it on their own,” said the report. “This is particularly difficult with youths and their fear of the unknown, with worries about the reaction of their communities and the health risks they face.”

In 2013, 20,900 women turned to 39 such committees. The vast majority, 20,400, were approved. The comptroller investigated the functioning of these committees over several months in 2014 and 2015.

“In order to make things easier for these women, more professional support from the medical system is required,” the report said. In practice, there is an outdated organizational culture that imposes a bureaucratic burden, with hand-written registration that leads to errors in handling and analyzing data. There is also insufficient data provided by the Health Ministry, the organization in charge of abortions, regarding women undergoing termination and the reasons for late abortions (24 weeks or later).

The report also notes a lack of accessibility to information about pregnancy termination. “Some institutions have little or no information while others have it only in Hebrew.” This is serious, since one-third of abortions are approved for women not born in Israel. Furthermore, women aren’t given sufficient time to consider their decision, as required.

The report also deals with education, determining that young people lack information regarding contraception. “Counselors in less than half of all high schools discussed sexual relations and contraception, and only one-third talked about prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. In junior high schools there are no classes devoted to these topics,” says the report.

The army was also found to come up short in providing guidance. Some 600 female soldiers a year had abortions, although there was a downward trend compared to previous years.

The report calls on the Health Ministry to take action to increase the efficiency of these committees and to monitor illegal abortions, while setting up a unified reporting policy. The ministry and these committees should supply women coming to them with information about birth control. Schools and the health system should also augment their guidance through sex education, state the recommendations.

The ministry responded by saying that it was using the draft report to correct deficiencies. “The ministry is updating and disseminating a brochure which will be available in other languages. A letter has gone out to hospital directors and committee heads in an effort to make material more accessible in other languages. In five hospitals there are programs to assist youths through their communities, with the help of social workers.”

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