Protecting Reproductive Rights

Amid Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz’s efforts to reform Israel’s outdated abortion policies, NIF grantee Physicians for Human Rights Israel has published a position paper on the issue, entitled Access to Terminating Pregnancy: Abortion and Equality.

Israel’s current abortion law was enacted in 1977 as an amendment to the penal code. The law requires anyone seeking an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to explain to a three-person committee the circumstances of the pregnancy and motives for termination. Even though the abortion is routinely approved, patients frequently feel the need to lie so that the reasons for the abortion fit the legal requirements. The doctors on the committee are also required to participate in this invasive and humiliating process and, in some cases, members of the committee attempt to persuade the woman not to have the abortion.

The World Medical Association has called on all governments to legislate regulations around abortions outside of the penal code, which defines what constitutes medical malpractice. They insist that the current status quo is detrimental to women’s rights as well as medical professionalism and ethics.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said, “In our new paper we call for the cancellation of the Pregnancy Termination Law including the committees for terminating pregnancies and argue that the issue should be handled by a different medical process. Doctors must allow pregnant patients to receive clear information about the complex considerations and medical risks so that they can reach their own individual and independent decision. In addition, access to various forms of contraceptives should be promoted.

“We know that there are those opposed to termination of pregnancies for reasons of religion and conscience, but that opposition cannot be used to restrict the freedom of someone’s body and cannot coerce somebody who does not share this belief or chooses to act against this belief for whatever reasons.”

Horowitz has described the current abortion law as “chauvinistic” and a “bad joke” and he wants to remove the invasive questioning and need to “justify” an abortion from the committee process. However, it remains unclear whether the Minister of Health will be able to push through the reforms due to the nature of Israel’s government coalition, which includes right-wing religious members.

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January 2022