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January 16, 2013

Things one shouldn’t be writing about until one does some research: Abortion in Israel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/things_one_shouldnt_be_writing_about_until_one_does_some_research_abortion/

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This will be an occasional series in which we shame the good people that insist on making false claims – usually in the service of ideology. And today: Dibur Acher of Jewschool, writing about The Abortion Wars [that] Come to Israel.

It is an interesting and complicated topic, and the writer clearly wants to make a point that is much beyond abortion rights of Israeli women:

Right now there are so many matters of democracy and freedom on which Israel is moving backwards, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. On women’s issues, in particular, Israel has lagged behind the US – the usual saying is “by about 25 years.”

True? I'd say no – most of the hype surrounding the supposed "backward" moving on democracy and freedom is, well, not much more than hype (try this study as proof). But let's assume that Israel's "democratic trends" can be a matter of debate; let's assume that the writer is right to have grievances related to "democracy and freedom"; would the abortion issue be a good example?

He writes:

[W]hile technically legal, it is quite arduous to actually obtain an abortion, and nearly impossible for married women. In fact, women seeking abortion have to navigate some rather arcane process of approval from a committee, a social worker, a technician who shows you ultrasounds – and apparently married women rarely, if ever, receive approval. 

Now, let's get some facts straight: in 2010, 21,363 women asked the "committee" to have an abortion. 97% of them – 97%! – were approved. That's hardly fit the "hardly impossible" definition. More facts: in 2011 about 19,000 women asked for abortion. Again, 99% of the requests were approved.

And how about the "nearly impossible for married women" claim? - 55% of the requests come from married women.

The rate of abortions in Israel is lower than in most western countries, and is declining, but that isn't because of governmental infringement on women's rights, it's because of other reasons. One study, for example, found:

[D]ecline in the abortion rate among Israeli women that was largely related to improved sex education and a greater recourse to modern contraceptives.

More facts: 89% of third trimester abortion requests are approved in Israel – in many countries such late term abortions are totally illegal. And more: in Israel a minor can legally have an abortion without having to notify the parents. And it's free of charge, until age 19.

Bottom line: the case of Israeli abortion is not an easy one to pin down. Having abortion approved by committees might be considered problematic and is worthy of debate. One can make the case that Israel infringes on a woman's right to choose, one can make the case that abortion committees are an intrinsically illiberal institutions. But one can't say that abortions in Israel are rare, that Israeli women don't have access to abortion or that any of this has anything to do with any recent "moving backward" – abortion laws in Israel are old news.

In other words, to have an interesting discussion about Israeli values and society one has to A. be more curious about the facts, and B. be ready to acknowledge that things don't always fall neatly into ones black-white preordained views of Israel. If you want to know more about abortions in Israel and still get the viewpoint of a young American writer, try this well researched article from 2009, by Jessica Kirzner – it wasn't hard to find:

Abortion is widely available in Israel, statistics show that 95% of Israeli women have access to moderately priced abortion and that over 95% of the women who apply for legal abortion are given positive answers. Nevertheless, rates of abortion are relatively low, with the average number of abortions for Israeli women at 0.6 compared to about 0.9 in the US and between 2 and 5 in Eastern Europe, rates that may be explained by the pronatalist atmosphere of Israeli society and by widespread and effective use of contraception.

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