Abortion in Practice

- THE LAW:  Abortion is lawfully permitted and subject to the approval of an abortion committee.  The Committee is authorized to give permission for termination of pregnancy, only if there is justification according to the reasons provided by law, and only after receiving the informed consent of the woman.

- In Practice: Slightly less than 20,000 abortions are done annually with the approval of the Committee for Termination of Pregnancy, but hundreds of illegal, unregulated abortion clinics exist in Israel and it is estimated that an additional 20-30,000 illegal abortions are done annually.

-  THE LAW: As a condition for termination of pregnancy, the woman will be asked to sign an informed consent form for termination of pregnancy after she has received a detailed explanation.

- In Practice: Although it is legally required to inform woman of the possible complications, risks, and consequences of abortion, our clients have informed us that this is rarely done. When we wrote to the Ministry of Health requesting that informational pamphlets would be distributed to woman prior to abortion, we were told that this is already the law. However, we have never heard of a case where this happened.

-  THE LAW: The conditions that give the Committee authority to approve termination of pregnancy are:

1. When the woman is under 17 or over 40 years.
2. When pregnancy is a result of relations prohibited by criminal law - rape, incest, or out-of-wedlock sex.
3. When the fetus is likely to have a physical or mental defect.
4. If continued pregnancy would endanger the woman's life or cause a woman physical or mental harm

In Practice: In our experience, all single women have been allowed to have an abortion through the Committee. The government reports that over 98% of those applying for abortion are authorized. The requirement that the pregnancy endanger the woman's mental health is very broad. Recently, one of our clients showed us the letter which she dictated to the psychologist who wrote her recommendation for approval by the Abortion Committee. Financial restraints, which may "endanger the woman's mental health", have constituted reason for social workers to recommend abortion for most of our single/married clients.   

Regarding the health of the fetus (baby), Israel is number one in the world for doing prenatal testing and abortion is often recommended when there is any suspicion of a problem with the baby. Abortion will be recommended for any reason including missing fingers, club foot, etc. Although a doctor's forum has requested that abortion be recommended only in life-threatening and severe instances, Israeli parents seek the "perfect child" and abortion is easily accessible. Nurses are required to offer patients the option of abortion if they have been on certain medications during pregnancy.

UPDATE: another wrinkle in law v/s reality conundrum. In December of 2013 the Health Basket committee of the Knesset approved its new annual budget which included, at the very last minute, government subsidized abortions for ANY woman under age 33 and over age 40. In effect, this budget adjustment changes the "law" without going through legislative channels.


- THE LAW: The Committees for Termination of Pregnancy may consider requests only from women whose pregnancy has not extended beyond 24 weeks in full, according to an ultrasound confirming gestational age. When gestational age is greater than 24 weeks, the decision will be made by a separate late-term Abortion Committee.

- In Practice: Legally, a baby is not a person with legal rights until he is disconnected from the umbilical cord. As a result, although a special committee approval is required, when there is a question regarding the mother's or baby's health, abortion will be recommended even during the later weeks of pregnancy and up until birth. The baby has no right to life at any point prior to his head emerging. 

THE LAW: The Committee for the Termination of Pregnancy must have three members: a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, another medical specialist and social worker. Among the committee members, one must be a woman.

In practice: While this rule is applied to government committees existing in several hospitals in each city, illegal abortions are done in private clinics without government regulation, supervision or record-keeping.

To prove this point, we have phoned private clinics and asked how we can obtain an abortion. The answer was simply to make an appointment and come in for the abortion. When we asked about the committee, the doctor said: "I am the committee."

- The LAW: As the Abortion law is in the penal code, it aught to apply to all residents of Israel, legal or Illegal, minors and those of age. 

In Practice: Foreigners who are not minors have no medical assistance of any kind but are heavily pressured to abort or else be expelled. Be'ad Chaim continues to help all woman who come to us for help including refugees (primarily from Sudan/Eritrea/ Ethiopia), women who were brought to Israeli through human trafficking (primarily from the former Soviet regime) and foreign workers (primarily from the Philippines).

THE LAW:  The army social services can refer a female soldier for up to 2 Government subsidized abortions during her 18-month army service.

In Practice: Although these soldiers do not fit the requirements of the abortion committee because they are not necessarily under 19, there is no medical danger to mother or child and the pregnancy is the result of a consensual relationship, yet they are entitled to two free abortions facilitated by the army. For soldiers in elite unit there seems to be no limit on the number of abortions allowed. Significant pressure is placed on the soldiers to abort and a woman who chooses to keep her pregnancy is immediately released from army service. We are thankful that recently, an army social worker has referred several women in crisis to Be'ad Chaim.

 THE LAW:  Confidentiality directives allow minors (under 18) to apply for approval of an abortion by the Committee without the need to obtain approval from a parent or guardian to do so.

IN PRACTICE: The Confidentiality Law intends to protect minors from parents who may harm them if it is discovered that they are pregnant, (as in the case of Muslim honor-killings). However, the law makes no effort to avoid unwanted teen pregnancy as minors who want to obtain birth control pills must have parental consent. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health issued directives recently instructing social workers to "speed" the way for minors to have abortions - without leaving a record of it in their medical files. We have known of several cases where an abortion was done, parents were never informed, and girls suffered because they never received necessary physical and emotional assistance.

THE LAW: Anyone who knowingly ended a woman's pregnancy, through medical treatment or otherwise, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years or a fine. By law, a gynecologist bears criminal responsibility for a woman's pregnancy termination, if two conditions were not  fulfilled - termination of pregnancy was recognized by a  medical institution and given a valid certificate for terminating the pregnancy. It is necessary to obtain approval from the Committee for Termination of Pregnancy for an abortion to be legal.

In Practice: As stated above, tens of thousands of abortions are done annually without the certification of the abortion committee. There is no enforcement of the penalty.

THE LAW:  The father of the fetus has no legal status before the Abortion Committee and his consent is not required for terminating the pregnancy. If the woman agrees, she may allow the spouse to accompany her to committee hearing but otherwise he is excluded.

In Practice: Many men have no idea that their partners aborted their child. They have no say in the matter and are often deeply grieved.

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