Israel eases abortion law restrictions after Roe v. Wade decision

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JERUSALEM — Israel has eased access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wadea decision which, according to the country’s health minister, set back women’s rights by “a hundred years”.

The new policy, approved by an overwhelming majority in the parliamentary committee on Monday, will grant women access to abortion pills through Israel’s universal health care system and exempt women from appearing before a special committee, including the Approval has been required for decades to terminate a pregnancy.

The commission, made up of a social worker and two doctors, will not be abolished, but it will review the files digitally and only hold hearings in the very rare case where it initially refuses the procedure. The changes will come into effect over the next three months.

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Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Israel’s small left-wing Meretz party, said on Monday that the US decision reversing Roe vs. Wade violated women’s basic human rights and this reform would ensure that Israel would not follow in its footsteps.

“The United States Supreme Court’s decision to deny a woman the right to her body is a grim decision,” Horowitz said in a statement. “We are somewhere else and we are making great strides in the right direction today.”

World leaders from all political walks of life have called the United States a cautionary tale of how basic rights can be lost. Centre-left Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that the decision was “awful”. Right-wing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “clearly having massive impacts on the thinking of people around the world” and called it a “big step backwards”.

Israel’s reform allows women, for the first time, to have abortions at their local health centers, rather than hospitals or surgical clinics.

Israel’s 1977 Abortion Law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: whether the woman is under 18 or over 40; if the fetus is in danger; if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or “illicit union”, including extramarital relations; and whether the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.

About 98 percent of those who seek an abortion receive one, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

But the requirement to appear first before a government committee that has been influenced for decades by ultra-Orthodox politicians has long caused unease in a largely unorthodox Israeli society, which has for years felt the dominance of conservatives on issues such as childbirth, divorce, marriage and other aspects of family law.

Horowitz, the health minister, said the questionnaire women submit before appearing before the commission was riddled with “degrading” and “chauvinistic” questions like, “Why didn’t you use birth control?”

“Issues that don’t concern anyone, certainly not the state,” Horowitz said. “Clearly they were written from a chauvinistic view that a woman’s judgment cannot be trusted.”

Abortion has long been widely available and has never been a hot topic in Israel. Ultra-Orthodox politicians who have opposed it have also historically deferred to the norms of Jewish law, or Halakha, which neither prohibits nor condones the practice.

Jewish law generally prioritizes the health – physical and psychological – of the mother and varies widely in its classification of the fetus as human life, with most rabbis agreeing that the first 40 days equate “to a menstrual cycle”, said Yuval Cherlow, a rabbi and director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics.

Cherlow said the new regulations, while a departure from the past, were still “consistent with halachic frameworks.”

But abortion rights advocates fear the development is reversible, given the ongoing state of political upheaval in Israel. The country is gearing up for its fifth election in less than four years, in which right-wing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ruled for 15 years with ardent support from ultra-Orthodox parties, is plotting a comeback.

Netanyahu’s base has included ultra-Orthodox politicians and community leaders who have – in a rare move in Israel – likened abortion to murder.

The Supreme Court turns the United States into a cautionary tale

Daphna Hacker, professor of women’s and gender studies at Tel Aviv University, said abortion access advocates are aware that elections scheduled for November could bring the most conservative politicians back into the fray. in government and would risk exacerbating the decades-long national identity crisis between Israel’s democratic and Jewish character — putting women’s rights in the crosshairs.

“On the one hand, Israel, as one of the first countries in the world, granted equality to women,” she said. “But this is the same country where much of the law of the land dates back 2,000 years. This dilemma is in our DNA.

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