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Israel Health & Medicine: Legal Terms of Abortion

by Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz

A 1977 law ensures a low-cost, and in some cases free, legal abortion to any woman who fills one of four criteria:

  • She is under 18 or over 40 (cost to those in between: 1,500 shekels [$370]).
  • She is carrying a fetus with a serious mental or physical defect (free).
  • She claims that the fetus results from forbidden relations such as rape or incest (free) or, in the case of a married woman, that the baby is not her husband's (not free). Single women also fall under this clause, and they too must pay.
  • She shows that by continuing the pregnancy, her physical or mental health would be damaged (free).

In 1980, a fifth criterion that allowed abortions for women living in economic hardship was abolished due to pressure from religious political parties.

A woman who seeks to terminate a pregnancy must first seek approval, appearing before one of the 41 abortion committees operating in public and private hospitals around the country. These committees include three members — a physician whose field of expertise is obstetrics and gynecology; another physician who is either a family doctor, psychiatrist, internist or gynecologist, and a social worker. At least one woman must be present on each committee. Hospital pregnancy termination committees approve the vast majority of their requests.

Six separate committees consider requests for termination when a fetus is beyond 24 weeks old. No hospitals in Jerusalem, however, will perform these abortions.

In 2012, 21,104 applications for termination of pregnancy - out of 21,689 (97%)- were approved. 20,063 pregnancies were actually terminated, approximately 10% of all known pregnancies in Israel. In addition, it is likely that more than 10,000 abortions were illegally performed in private doctors' clinics. The majority of these illegal abortions are performed on married women who are worried their applications may be rejected or take too long to process.

In January 2014 the Israeli Knesset passed a reform to the national health coverage law, gauranteeing free abortion proceedures to any patients between the ages of 20 and 33, regardless of circumstance.

Sources: United Nations Abortion Policies: A Global Review,
Kamin, Deborah. “Israel’s abortion law now among world’s most liberal,”
Times of Israel, (January 6, 2014)
Zonszein, Mairav. “Israel's abortion committees,” New York Times, (June 12, 2015)