Mairav Zonszein is a bilingual and bi-cultural American Israeli who worked for our organization about a decade ago, for one year. Then we supported her becoming director of the Union of Progressive Zionists, in which capacity she served for another year. (The UPZ was a national student organization jointly created by Meretz USA, Ameinu, Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim-Dror, and is now affiliated with J Street and known as J Street U.)
She returned to Israel shortly afterwards, where she’s made her mark as a passionate activist and journalist (on the radical left), and especially as a regular blogger for +972 magazine. This post is about her second op-ed piece in the NY Times, “Israel’s Abortion Committees“; although she writes that “in practice, 98 percent of abortion requests in Israel are approved,” her point is that Israeli women have no legal right to choose. Her article is excerpted below:
I KNEW Israeli law required that all abortions be approved by a committee. I also knew that the procedure was widely accessible. I’d never heard of an Israeli woman being denied an abortion …
So I never really gave it much thought, until I found myself sitting in front of such a committee, six weeks pregnant with a 5-month-old baby at home [pictured above].
. . . Each committee includes a social worker and two doctors. The law stipulates four criteria, any of which is sufficient for approval: If the woman is below 18 or over 40; if the fetus is in danger; if the mother’s mental or physical health is at risk; or if the pregnancy occurs out of wedlock or is the result of rape or incest.
I am 33 and free of medical issues. But because my partner and I are not legally married, I felt some relief knowing that I had a clear ticket out. Still, I balked at the realization that I had to request permission.
. . . Abortions became legal in Israel in January 1977, four years after Roe v. Wade, but the law does not recognize a woman’s right to make her own choice.
. . . The most recent figures show that, in practice, 98 percent of abortion requests in Israel are approved. But of the approximately 40,000 abortions performed each year, only around half go through the committees.
The other estimated 20,000 are being conducted illegally, through doctors at private clinics, not at home or in alleyways. There are plenty of doctors you can find online at the click of a button. While they are theoretically subject to punitive legal measures, their patients are not — and the authorities simply look the other way.
. . . A 2014 reform to the national health coverage law offers free abortions to all women between 20 and 33 regardless of circumstance. The move is aimed at helping married women who had affairs but are financially dependent on their husbands, or young women who can’t afford the procedure and don’t want to ask family or friends for help.
But with half of abortions almost always approved and the other half conducted illegally, the committees are clearly gratuitous and archaic.
A bill proposed in 2006 by the left-wing Meretz party sought to get rid of the committees, but it was rejected. Some abortion rights advocates fear that passing such a law would draw a sharp reaction from religious parties — now a dominant force in the new government — suddenly making it a hot-button issue that could upend the status quo.
Although Israel is often seen as relatively progressive on abortion because a vast majority of women are able to terminate their pregnancies, the situation here is actually the inverse of most Western countries, where abortion is lawful and largely free of restrictions. Israel’s policy may be better than countries where abortions are strictly prohibited (like Brazil and Egypt), or where exceptions are made only to save a woman’s life (like Ireland), but it is far from being liberal.
. . . Click here to read her entire article at the NY Times website.