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A Welcome Change on Abortion, Still Far From Making Israel an Enlightened Country

A change in regulations is a start, but unless Israel stops being governed by religion, it will remain an unenlightened and paternalistic state that treats women as nothing more than vessels for children

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Protesters against the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in Washington, Sunday.
Protesters against the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in Washington, Sunday.Credit: Samuel Corum / AFP
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

After a year of laying the groundwork, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and his Meretz colleagues MKs Michal Rozin and Gaby Lasky have managed to make a small crack in the wall of Israel’s unbending insurance policy on abortion.

It is a change in the regulations (not in the law itself) entitled “Abortion Reform” – a title a few sizes too big for the change it actually makes. In a meeting of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee, the speakers repeatedly emphasized that this was “not a fundamental change”, but rather an updating of regulations that still meet the requirements of the law. And they were right.

The amendments ease restrictions on medical abortions for women until the 12th week of pregnancy, allowing them to obtain abortion pills at the health maintenance organization's offices and scrapping the requirement to appear before an abortion committee.

Israel remains an unenlightened and paternalistic state that believes that women are first and foremost a vessel whose purpose is childbirth, much more than they are autonomous individuals with their own will, opinions and control over their own bodies. It believes that every pregnancy is a blessing, no matter the will or willingness of the woman who carries it, or the life she could or could not provide to a child.

It was sufficient to hear and feel the spirit of the statements made on Monday at the committee meeting by men like MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), for whom the very possibility that a woman carrying a fetus for a few weeks would not physically appear before the humiliating pregnancy termination committee caused him to jump out of his chair and demand a revised discussion.

Then there was the representative of the anti-abortion organization Efrat who proposed that women be made to wait another 72 hours to think about their decision before the procedure, no matter the weeks of psychological turmoil she has already experienced. And when that’s the way things look, any change and updating of a clause and a regulation after decades of stagnation seems like a “reform,” an achievement.

Israel’s abortion policy, like many other things in the country, was designed in the image of obtuse men of this type, men who don't have the slightest hint of sensitivity, understanding or empathy for women in general, and particularly for women who have found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy.

Nearly 20,000 women a year stand before members of the pregnancy termination committee, consisting of three strangers they have never met before. At a time of likely emotional turmoil, she is required to answer questions and reveal personal and intimate details of her life. “Do you usually menstruate regularly?” “Since your last period, did you or the man use contraceptives?” “What contraceptives did you use?” “Why didn’t you use a contraceptive?”

Each woman is required to give a convincing enough explanation, true or not, for why she seeks not to realize the purpose of her womb at this time. Her wishes and her rights over her own body are nowhere in that room at that moment. Women not affected by the regulation change who want to terminate their pregnancies will apparently be able to do so. They will just have to lie and undergo a humiliating ritual in which the rules of the game are clear: The fetus is in your womb, but you are the least important consideration.

The direction Horowitz has set is important, welcome and admirable. But as long as Israel exists as a state governed by religious law in the guise of an enlightened and advanced country, it won’t have the power to bring about real change, and many women and families and Israeli society will continue to pay the price.

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