Without belittling the importance of certain changes in the state-funded “health basket” of medical services and treatments, the committee that introduced these changes for 2014 will be remembered most for its brave decision to approve state funding for abortions for women aged 20 to 33. This changes the present situation, in which women forgo having an abortion because of the cost – 2,099 shekels ($605) for an early-stage medical abortion induced with pharmaceutical drugs, or 2,803 shekels for a surgical abortion.
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The committee ended the contradiction between the reality - in which a woman’s desire to control her own body and life takes precedence – and the policy of the establishment, which views abortion as a sort of luxury, a payment for an irresponsible act, for which the woman largely bears the burden.
Alongside saving lives and improving their quality, the committee wisely decided to add to its goals the improvement of women’s lives, too. It took a stand on the gender injustice that transforms an unwanted pregnancy from the joint responsibility of a man and a woman into a woman’s problem alone. Figures presented to the committee exposed the main victims of this situation: Young, single women who are not economically stable and sometimes hail from Arab or religious communities – women who could suffer social disaster for raising money for an abortion.
The committee created social justice not just for women, but also for all of Israeli society. In a country colored by religion and conservatism, courage is required to tell the truth in all its simplicity: Women who give birth to an unwanted child because they could not afford an abortion will be forced to endure the costs of raising this child for years, and his welfare will then become society’s problem. The resulting damage is unfair – both to the women and their children.
Yet this reform need not end with the decision of one health committee. The state will now fund these abortions, but the committees that approve the procedures will continue to be subject to strict criteria when considering abortions in cases involving rape, incest, sex out of wedlock or with a man other than a woman’s husband, or in cases where there is a high chance of a fetal birth defect or physical or mental risk to the woman. This creates a policy under which abortions are approved based mostly on lies: In 2011, the most common justification for approving an abortion was a declaration by the woman, supported by an affidavit from a lawyer, that she became pregnant outside of her marriage, which could create problems in the event she seeks a divorce.
Lawmakers must act to change the abortion committees’ criteria and to ensure that Israeli policy matches that of most Western nations. Every woman must be given the freedom to choose based on her mental, physical, family and economic state if she wants to continue her pregnancy or not.