In Israel 2013, Women Still Aren't Truly Independent

More than 20,000 legal abortions are performed in Israel every year; while the conditions have improved, a woman's control over her body is still limited.

Early one morning last week, my husband, the father of our three children, and I found ourselves looking for the unknown address of a small hospital in a far-off city. To our surprise, although the sun had just started to rise, the waiting room was already full of women, dangerous criminals like me, staring at their shoes and accompanied by their husbands. Like me, I thought, they are about to meet their partners in crime — gynecologists, anesthesiologists and nurses — who would help them fulfill the illegal desire and decision they were about to exercise over their bodies and their lives, in exchange for a sizable sum and a bond of silence.

More than 20,000 legal abortions are performed in Israel every year, and most of the requests submitted to the committee that must approve them are granted. Although I did not meet even one of the enlightened criteria required to terminate a pregnancy in Israel, I could have done what thousands of women in my situation had done previously: stand before the termination committee, tell the customary lies about an extramarital pregnancy, taking medications or dangerous substances, or possible mental collapse, and hope that at the end of a humiliating field trial, my justification would be convincing enough – that the committee would permit me a legal, subsidized abortion that would take place at a well-known hospital in the light of day.

I chose not to do so. In the limited autonomous space I still have, I chose not to stray from my will and my beliefs, not to lie or appease whatever person who, for some reason, had been given legal possession of my body.

“Good morning, everybody,” I said, trying with a smile to diffuse the tension and gravity in the room. My greeting was met with faint mumbles. Apparently my over-familiarity was not exactly welcome. Here, the desire was for over-anonymity, accompanied by a wish to be swallowed up by the earth.

One after another we were called to the operating room, with lowered glances and bleary eyes from nights of thinking, agonizing, making serious decisions, and finally the anticipation of just getting through it. Yes, it is complex, not simple or trivial, but when all is said and done it is mine and mine alone.

About an hour later there was no trace in my body of the unplanned pregnancy and I made my way back home, free to decide how to run family, how many children I would have and how my life would unfold, according to my own wishes, ability, understanding and choice.

During the trip, while I was still a little out of it from the anesthetic, I found myself remembering powerful films such as Vera Drake and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, in which I was shocked to see how women like me in the United Kingdom during the 1950s or in Romania during the 1980s had to exert their right and freedom over their bodies in disgraceful, life-threatening conditions and under constant persecution.

On the eve of Independence Day this year, I realized, to my sorrow, that although I’d had the improved sanitary conditions of Western countries in the 21st century, my situation was not all that different from those that unfolded before me on the movie screen. In Israel 2013, a woman’s freedom over her body and her womb is still limited.